The Munson Creek Fire burning near Chena Hot Springs east of Fairbanks continues to grow and advance toward the hot springs and Chena Hot Springs Road.
Hot, dry conditions and south winds produced another day of extreme fire behavior today, challenging the 100 firefighters working to protect Chena Hot Springs Resort and cabins and homes at the end of Chena Hot Springs Road. Air attack personnel flying over the fire estimate the fire had grown to more than 11,000 acres as of 9 p.m.
Some flames were visible on the hillside behind Chena Hot Springs and the fire was believed to be less than 1 mile from the resort as it backs down the hillside toward the resort, which features a hotel, restaurant, swimming pool and several cabins and other structures. The fire was also advancing toward Chena Hot Springs Road and was reported to be less than 2 miles from the road between mileposts 46 and 48. Flames are visible from the road but fire managers don’t anticipate the fire will reach the road tonight.
If and when the fire does reach the road, the road may be closed to one-way traffic with a pilot car due to heavy smoke and reduced visibility. The road currently remains open.
A “Set” evacuation advisory issued Thursday for residents living along the road beyond 48 Mile and for guests and staff at Chena Hot Springs remains in place. A “Set” evacuation order means people should be prepared to leave their homes immediately if needed.
A public meeting is scheduled today at 4 p.m. at the Chena Hot Springs Resort activities center. Fire managers from the Alaska Division of Forestry and staff from the Fairbanks North Star Borough will provide an update on the fire and answer questions.
The fire did reach two aurora viewing yurts that are part of Chena Hot Springs Resort about 2 miles south of the resort but brush has either been cleared or burned around those structures and sprinklers connected to an 800-gallon water tank have been turned on to protect the yurts from burning. The status of the yurts was unknown at the time of this report.
The fire crossed a ridgeline behind Chena Hot Springs early Friday afternoon that firefighters had been using as a natural barrier to hold the fire. Once the fire breached the ridge and fire behavior intensified, it was deemed unsafe for firefighters and they fell back in a defensive mode to set up hoses, pumps and sprinklers around structures at the resort and around cabins and homes near the end of the road. As of 8 p.m., the resort was fully plumbed with pumps, hose and sprinklers and firefighters were turning their attention to cabins and homes on the south side of the road between Mile 55 and the hot springs at the end of the road.
The fire crossed the ridgeline about one-half mile east of the yurts and may have also crossed the ridge near the Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Springs Trail shelter cabin. Smoky conditions have made it difficult for fire managers to determine how well the fire is established north of the ridge.
Firefighters had been successful in holding the fire south of the east-west ridgeline on Thursday despite a dramatic surge in fire behavior due to hot temperatures and wind. However, south winds pushing the fire north toward the ridgeline kicked up late Friday morning, increasing fire behavior and making it unsafe for firefighters to engage the fire on the ridgeline.