May 25, 2014 8:29 pm
Updated: May 25, 2014 8:59 pm

Alaska’s Funny River Fire grows to 193 square miles

Haze from smoke covers a highway in Anchorage, Alaska, Thursday, May 22, 2014.

AP Photo/Mark Thiessen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A wildfire in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage has grown to cover more than 193 square miles (500 square kilometres), but it was only 20 per cent contained as of Sunday, fire officials said.

The Funny River Fire threatens about 150 cabins, vacation homes and year-round residences in three communities. Authorities have told people in those areas to be ready to leave but had not issued an evacuation order.

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The fire, named after a road near its northern edge, was burning in the 1.9 million-acre (700,0000 hectare) Kenai National Wildlife Refuge grew by about 42 square miles (109 square kilometres) on Saturday but did not get any closer to structures. No buildings have been damaged and no injuries have been reported.

READ MORE: B.C. wildland firefighters off to Alaska

The size of the blaze is not unusual for Alaska but the state does not usually see such large fires this early in the season, said Michelle Weston, spokeswoman with the Alaska Interagency Management Team, which includes the state Division of Forestry and federal and local officials.

The Alaska Department Natural Resources warned residents of Anchorage, the state’s largest city, to expect to see considerable smoke from this and another wildfire.

About 450 firefighters are assigned to the Funny River Fire, which is the most active of several large wildfires burning in Alaska. Firefighters have been flown in from Oregon, Montana and Canada to help Alaskan crews.

They were working Sunday to build and strengthen containment lines on the west and north perimeters of the blaze, fire spokesman Bernie Pineda said. They hope to complete the west line within the next few days, he said.

“We had a great day fighting the fire yesterday,” Pineda said, adding that the lines crews had built earlier held well despite strong winds.

Fire officials said they were expecting some rain by Tuesday and predicted the warnings for possible evacuation of the threatened homes could be lifted sometime Monday.

Gov. Sean Parnell flew over the fire midday Sunday. He praised the multiagency effort – including state, local and federal officials.

“Lots of pieces are working well together right now,” Parnell said during a news conference. “Thanks so much to the entire team for keeping Alaskans safe.”

Wildfires in Alaska’s remote areas are not unusual during the summer months, with an average of a million acres (400,000 hectares) burned each fire season, Weston said.

The state is experiencing unusually dry conditions because of unseasonably warm spring temperatures. High wind is also a challenge for crews.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1941 as the Kenai National Moose Range and was aimed at moose protection. Wildlife viewing, fishing, camping and hiking attract visitors from around the world.

© 2014 The Canadian Press

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