Start Date: 06/18/2021 Location: 52 miles E of Fairbanks, AK
Cause: Lightning Fire Size: 36,609 acres
Containment: 6% Total Personnel: 180
The Munson Creek Fire near Chena Hot Springs 50 miles east of Fairbanks kept “chugging along” on Sunday but was generally well behaved as firefighters monitored its progress to ensure it didn’t throw any surprises at them.
The 36,609-acre wildfire has been burning for more than three weeks since it was ignited by lightning on June 18 about 5 miles south of Chena Hot Springs. Because the fire started in a Limited protection area where wildfires are typically left to function in their normal ecological role, firefighters have not been trying to fully contain it but instead working to ensure it doesn’t threaten Chena Hot Springs Resort or dozens of cabins and homes along Chena Hot Springs Road between mileposts 42 to 56.5. There are 180 firefighters working on the fire.
So far, firefighters have been successful in steering the fire away from the resort, cabins and homes while allowing it to play its natural role on the landscape. They have cleared brush and installed pumps, hoses and sprinklers around more than 70 homes and cabins on the south side of the road closest to the fire to protect them if the fire makes a run toward the road. The fire is currently 1-3 miles south and east of the road between miles 45-55.
On Sunday, the fire continued skulking around as it has been for the last several days. Fire behavior consisted mostly of smoldering and creeping, though there was some active torching and burning on parts of the northeast corner a mile or so east of the resort and on the northwest corner behind Angel Rocks. Helicopter water drops were used to douse hot spots in those areas to keep the fire in check. Two helicopters made a total of 111 bucket drops on the fire Sunday totaling 33,300 gallons of water.
“It really hasn’t moved much except in that northeast corner where it’s probably burned another 200 or 300 acres,” said operations chief Jerry Horton. “It’s just chugging along and burning up pockets (of unburned vegetation) here and there. It’s doing very well on its own.”
Firefighters were considering a burnout operation on the northeast corner of the fire east of the resort’s airstrip to clean out a pocket of unburned fuel just south of Monument Creek to keep it from crossing the creek to the north. However, the burn operation was put on hold when the fire worked its way into the area and began burning the green fuel naturally. Firefighters will continue monitoring the fire’s progress along the creek.
Fire managers did get some unplanned assistance in the form of two “free” air tanker drops on Sunday – one of retardant and one of water. An air tanker based at Fairbanks International Airport was planning to jettison a load of retardant that had been pumped into the tanker a few days ago but had not been used. Fire managers, who were asked if they had a use for it, utilized the retardant to paint an east-west line just south and west of Bearpaw Butte south of the road to help keep the fire from advancing closer to the road. The fire is currently about 2 ½ miles east of the road in that area, hung up in a riparian area where fire managers hope it remains. The tanker then dropped a 2,000-gallon load of water on an active portion of the fire just south of Bearpaw Butte to flush out the old retardant.
EVACUATION: The “Go” level evacuation order from Mile 48 to Chena Hot Springs at Mile 56.5 still in effect is being reevaluated daily to determine when it can be safely lifted.
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.
TEMPORARY FLIGHT RESTRICTION: A TFR for aircraft and drones is in effect surrounding the fire. For more information check https://tfr.faa.gov/