The Munson Creek Fire burning just south of Chena Hot Springs 50 miles northeast of Fairbanks mushroomed to almost 9,000 acres on Thursday and the Fairbanks North Star Borough issued a “Set” evacuation notice for residents living east of Mile 48 Chena Hot Springs Road and guests at Chena Hot Springs Resort.
The fire reached a rocky, alpine ridge about 2 miles south of Chena Hot Springs on Thursday morning, a trigger point for firefighters to take suppression action on the fire.
As of 6 p.m., approximately 80 firefighters were working to keep the fire stalled on top of the ridge with the help of water and retardant drops by aircraft. Two air tankers are being used to lay a retardant line down along a four-wheeler trail in front of the fire to protect two yurts belonging to Chena Hot Springs and a remote automated weather station. Three helicopters are being used to drop water on the head of the fire on top of the ridge.
Firefighters also conducted a burn out operation on top of the ridge to burn off vegetation in front of the fire and yurts to rob it of fuel when it hits the burn line.
A “Set” evacuation notice means residents should have their bags and important items packed and be ready to leave their homes immediately if necessary. The evacuation notice will be re-evaluated daily based on fire activity and weather.
After four days of smoldering and minimal fire spread due to cloud cover and higher relative humidity, the Munson Creek Fire blew up on Wednesday and Thursday with hot, drier conditions and bright sunshine. The fire grew from an estimated 500 acres on Wednesday morning to an estimated 8,900 acres as of 5 p.m., according to air attack personnel flying over the fire to coordinate aircraft dropping water and retardant. Ash from the fire was falling at Chena Hot Springs.
Fire managers had speculated the fire was much larger than 500 acres but smoky conditions prevented aircraft and ground personnel from getting an accurate perimeter until Thursday.
As of 6 p.m., the fire was about one-half mile south of both the yurts and a trail shelter cabin on the Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Springs Trail. The fire is about 2 miles south of Chena Hot Springs.
A crew of 18 firefighters have been monitoring the fire for the past week from a high point where the yurts are located, as well as assessing structures in the area to develop a structure protection plan if the advances toward Chena Hot Springs and cabins and residences at the end of Chena Hot Springs Road. Two more crews were ordered to the fire on Thursday, along with three engines from Fairbanks Area Forestry and two bulldozers to construct control lines around structures. A temporary flight restriction (TFR) was put in place over the fire area to ensure a safe working environment for firefighting aircraft and pilots are advised to avoid the area. For more information on the TFR, go to https://tfr.faa.gov/save_pages/detail_1_3583.html.
The fire became active with the hotter, drier weather on Wednesday, backing down a ridge on the west side and moving slightly to the north along the ridge. Wind pushed the south end of the fire across Munson Creek. Most of the fire’s growth was east of the creek where wind direction and slope aligned and allowed the fire to run straight uphill. Fire behavior included flames running and crowning in black spruce with short range spotting.
By Thursday morning, heavy smoke from the fire was blowing into Fairbanks and surrounding areas. The hot, dry weather is forecast to continue Friday before a cooler, moister weather system moves into the Interior over the weekend.
The fire’s impressive smoke column was clearly visible Thursday from Fairbanks, North Pole, Eielson Air Force Base and Delta Junction.
Due to the increased fire activity, Alaska State Parks has closed the Angel Rocks Trail effective immediately. The Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Springs Trail remains closed, also.
The Munson Creek fire was ignited by lightning on June 18. The fire had been laying low during recent cool, humid weather. Because no homes, cabins or other structures lay in its direct path, the Munson Creek fire is being allowed to burn in order to reduce fuels, create a mosaic of different habitat types and reduce future fire danger, similar to a natural fire regime. Fire is an essential ecological process in the Boreal Forest ecosystem in Alaska.