Recent hot, dry weather has re-energized the Munson Creek Fire near Chena Hot Springs east of Fairbanks. The fire was most recently estimated at 43,746 acres on Saturday but has grown in size since then based on reconnaissance flights Sunday and Monday.
“There was increased activity on all parts of the fire perimeter,” reported Incident Commander Ernest Prax following Monday’s recon flight.
The fire was producing a significant smoke column south of Chena Hot Springs on Monday and Tuesday that was clearly visible from Chena Hot Springs Resort. The fire is most active on the northeast corner well east of Chena Hot Springs and Far Mountain, and along the southern perimeter along the Middle Fork Chena River. The fire has not crossed the river and remains north of the river.
The fire is mainly burning into the wilderness in those areas, though there are a handful of cabins and mining camps along the river that have structure protection set up around them. The fire is also burning up interior pockets of vegetation that hadn’t previously burned inside the fie perimeter.
There was also increased activity on a small chunk of the west perimeter near Bear Paw Butte east of Chena Hot Springs Road between mileposts 49-53. The fire remains anywhere from 1-3 miles east of the road in that area and there is no increased threat despite the heightened fire activity. A ‘Set’ evacuation notice remains in effect for residences in that area and at Chena Hot Springs Resort.
The Munson Creek Fire was started by lightning and reported on June 18. The fire was initially located in a Limited protection area about 5 miles south of Chena Hot Springs and was allowed to burn. Firefighters were called in two weeks later when the fire blew up and advanced over a ridgetop about 2 miles from Chena Hot Springs Resort. Parts of the fire came within 100 yards of structures at the resort but firefighters strategically positioned to meet the fire were able to keep it out of the resort complex.
There were more than 200 firefighters assigned to the fire a week and a half ago but that number has been scaled back considerably and stood at 44 personnel on Tuesday morning. Management of the fire transitioned to a smaller Type 4 team on Saturday with Prax as the new incident commander.
While the fire is officially listed at 8% contained, the containment percentage is unlikely to increase because firefighters are not actively taking suppression action on the fire, which is being allowed to function in its natural ecological role while firefighters protect cabins and homes along Chena Hot Springs Road and the Chena Hot Springs Resort.
Firefighters are “aggressively monitoring,” the fire, Prax said. The White Mountain Type 2 Initial Attack Crew remain on the fire and members are stationed at a few different lookout points to monitor fire behavior. Some crew members are also scouting the fire around Bear Paw Butte east of Chena Hot Springs Road around Mile 53, where the fire remains stalled in a riparian area in a creek drainage.
Firefighters in six engines are patrolling along the road while also gathering information on the location of cabins in the area to add to a known-sites database. The database contains information on the structures and what would be required to protect them in the event of future fires in the area..
Chena Hot Springs Road remains open but all Alaska State Parks facilities east of 42 Mile Chena Hot Springs Road remain closed, including the Angel Rocks, Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Springs, Angel Creek Hillside and Chena Dome trails and trailheads. Public-use cabins and campgrounds are also closed east of 42 Mile.