A dramatic increase in fire intensity on the McKinley Fire near Mile 88 of the Parks Highway on Sunday afternoon resulted in the loss of at least 50 structures as firefighters and other emergency responders worked furiously to evacuate and rescue residents threatened by the fire.
Alaska Division of Forestry and Matanuska-Susitna Borough personnel are still working to account for residents who chose not to evacuate their homes or go to an evacuation shelter. Forestry, borough and Red Cross officials are working to determine how many structures were lost but specific details about structures that burned are not currently available.
Driven by strong north winds, the fire jumped from the east side of the Parks Highway to the west side at around 6 p.m., prompting immediate evacuations on both sides of the highway from Mileposts 82 to 91. Firefighters from Forestry, local fire departments and Alaska State Troopers assisted with evacuation efforts.
The Parks Highway was closed at milepost 71.25 on the south and the Upper Susitna Senior Center on Helena Avenue at approximately milepost 98.5 on the north. The highway remained closed as of 11 p.m. There was no timetable for when the road will be reopened at the time of this report.
The latest size estimate on the fire was approximately 1,800 acres as of 10 p.m. Sunday.
Evacuation shelters have been established north and south of the Parks Highway closure. The shelter on the south end is located at the Menard Sports Complex in Wasilla and the shelter on the north end of the closure is at the Upper Susitna Senior Center at approximately Mile 98.5.
The fire was started Saturday afternoon when a tree was blown onto a powerline near Mile 91 of the Parks Highway. The fire grew to about 150 acres overnight and burned up to the Parks Highway but remained east of the highway. That changed late Sunday afternoon when strong winds and warm, dry conditions fueled extreme fire behavior that prevented suppression efforts and forced firefighters to focus their efforts on evacuating residents and protecting structures threatened by the fire.
A Type 2 Incident Management Team from Alaska will be taking command of the McKinley Fire on Tuesday and two more incident management teams from the Lower 48 are enroute to take over management of the Deshka Landing Fire and Swan Lake Fire.
With the increase in wildfire activity in Southcentral Alaska the past two days, Forestry is also bringing up multiple other resources from the Lower 48 to assist with containment of fires. Ten hotshot crews are enroute to Alaska and should arrive Monday afternoon. Those crews will be split among the three fires listed above. Two air retardant tankers and four water-scooping aircraft are also enroute to Alaska.