A remote wildfire northwest of Anchorage late Tuesday night prompted the evacuation of more than two dozen people from a historic hunting lodge that also serves as a checkpoint on the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
The Rainy Pass Fire (#664) was reported at 8:11 p.m. after a lightning strike started the fire near Rainy Pass Lodge. As of Wednesday morning, the fire had grown to an estimated 120 acres and was receiving light rain, according to the Alaska Division of Forestry.
An air attack plane from Mat-Su Area Forestry in Palmer initially responded to the fire Tuesday night and reported it to be 3-5 acres and one-half mile from the lodge’s runway. Air tankers were requested out of Palmer and Fairbanks but were not able to reach the fire due to the weather conditions. A load of eight smokejumpers that were enroute to the fire from Fairbanks was also diverted to McGrath due to weather.
Due to the rapid advancement of the fire and proximity to the lodge, 26 employees and guests were evacuated from the lodge by a Blackhawk helicopter from the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center in Anchorage. The evacuees were flown to Anchorage. Twenty horses at the lodge were released for their safety and are currently onsite.
Three firefighters from Mat-Su Area Forestry were flown by helicopter to the fire Tuesday night and worked late into the night to protect the lodge and a fuel cache located at the end of the runway.
A 14-person helitack module was enroute to the fire Wednesday morning and a load of eight smokejumpers was standing by in McGrath waiting for the weather to clear to be flown into the fire. The Mat-Su Area Type 2 hand crew was also awaiting transport to the fire.
The Rainy Pass Lodge is approximately 125 miles northwest of Anchorage, just south of the crest of the Alaska Range. It is at Mile 153 of the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. In addition to the lodge, there are 10 other cabins and structures on site. Rainy Pass Lodge is Alaska’s oldest hunting lodge. It was founded in 1937 by Bud Branham, a legend among Alaska’s Master Guides.