Cooler, cloudier and moister weather was helping to temper fire behavior on the Munson Creek Fire near Chena Hot Springs on Saturday morning as firefighters continue work to prep cabins, homes and other structures along Chena Hot Springs Road in the event the fire reaches them.
Firefighters have finished installing plumbing around structures at Chena Hot Springs Resort and are now focusing their attention on cabins and homes along a 10-mile stretch of the road from Mile 45 to Mile 55.
Light rain fell on the fire at around 8:30 a.m. While the precipitation was light and is not expected to be a wetting rain, the increased moisture in the air is helping to calm fire behavior.
The latest size estimate following a helicopter reconnaissance flight Friday night was 11,200 acres but smoky conditions have made it difficult to get a defined perimeter of the fire. There are 109 firefighters assigned to the fire.
A public meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. today in the activities center at Chena Hot Springs Resort in which fire managers will be providing an update on the fire.
As of Saturday morning, firefighters had plumbed approximately 20 cabins and homes from the hot springs to Mile 55 and will be working their way west down the road today to milepost 45 to create defensible space and install hose, pumps and sprinklers around those structures.
The fire was reported to be about 1 mile south of Chena Hot Springs and 1-2 miles south of Chena Hot Springs Road between mileposts 46 and 48. The fire crossed a ridgeline Friday that firefighters were using as a natural barrier to hold the fire. Once the fire breached the ridge, firefighters fell back to focus on structure protection because it was unsafe to remain on the ridge and engage the fire directly. Fire managers described fire behavior on Friday as “two notches above extreme.”
The fire reached two aurora viewing yurts set up near the ridgeline about 2 miles southeast of Chena Hot Springs and a shelter cabin on the Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Springs Trail about 2 miles south of the hot springs. The status of the yurts and shelter cabin was unclear Saturday due to heavy smoke but sprinklers had been set up around the yurts.
Eight smokejumpers were dropped at a cabin along the Middle Fork Chena River to set up structure protection and they are searching for another cabin in the area to do the same.
Chena Hot Springs Road remains open but smoke in the area could limit visibility and motorists should be on the lookout for firefighters and firefighting equipment along the road.
The Munson Creek Fire was ignited by lightning on June 18.
EVACUATION INFO: A “Set” evacuation notice issued by Fairbanks North Star Borough Emergency Operations remains in effect for cabin and home owners between mileposts 45 to 55, as well as guests and staff at Chena Hot Springs. A “Set” evacuation notice means people should be prepared to leave their homes at a moment’s notice.
CLOSURES: All Alaska State Parks facilities east of milepost 45 Chena Hot Springs Road are closed, including the Angel Rocks Trail and trailhead and Chena Dome Trail and trailhead.
FIREWISE: Home and cabin owners are encouraged to clear brush and trees within 30 feet of their structures to make them more defensible if threatened by a wildfire. Go to http://forestry.alaska.gov/Assets/pdfs/home/firewise09.pdf for more information on Firewise tactics.