Updated: Anchorage wildfire forces evacuations

An Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter circles after dropping a bucket of water on a wildfire in East Anchorage on Tuesday, July 2, 2019.

An Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter circles after dropping a bucket of water on a wildfire in East Anchorage on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. (Photo by Nat Herz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Update (Tuesday, 9:30 p.m.) — Casey Grove, Alaska Public Media

A fast-moving wildland fire erupted in East Anchorage Tuesday afternoon. What officials are calling the Campbell Park Fire was first reported at 4:28 p.m., and quickly grew to 15 acres, causing a small evacuation effort and sending more than 100 first responders scrambling to contain the blaze.

By about 8 p.m, Anchorage Municipal Manager Bill Falsey said crews were confident they had the fire largely under control.

“We feel like we are in a good place and this is not going to get away from us,” Falsey said at an emergency command center set up close to the fire perimeter. As he spoke, three helicopters circled overhead dropping water on the flames.

Anchorage Fire Department Chief Jodie Hettrick said crews will continue dousing the area, and efforts to fully extinguish the fire will take days.

“What we need to do is dump a lot of water on this, and we have to walk the entire perimeter and make sure that we surround that perimeter to make sure we get good, solid coverage,” Hettrick said. “It’s gonna take a while.”

With no rain or substantial change in the weather forecast, fire officials are wary of the hot, dry conditions in Anchorage that are elevating the fire risk. As of Tuesday evening, AFD was working on containment and not yet investigating what set off the blaze.

“We do not know a cause or origin at this time. We have no comment because we have no information,” Hettrick said.

Flames got to about a half-mile from some homes, but ultimately they were contained within the nearby greenbelt. There were no reports of lost life or property.

Thirty-seven children and adults were initially evacuated on municipal buses, but they returned home later in the evening.

Wildland firefighters prepare to head into the woods in East Anchorage on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, to fight a fire that forced evacuations of a trailer park and two other areas of the city.

Wildland firefighters prepare to head into the woods in East Anchorage on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, to fight a fire that forced evacuations of a trailer park and two other areas of the city. (Photo by Nat Herz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Original story (with updates)

A fire that broke out in Anchorage parkland around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday forced brief evacuations of nearby neighborhoods.

Smoke rises in the distance near Anchorage.

A wildfire that broke out in Anchorage on Tuesday forced evacuations. (Photo by Kirsten Swann/Alaska Public Media)

By 7 p.m., the fire had burned 15 acres and was 30% contained, according to the Anchorage Police Department. Officials had initially reported the fire was 80% contained.

Anchorage firefighters first attacked the blaze with help from a helicopter dropping water. No structures have burned, according to the Anchorage Fire Department.

The fire reportedly started in or near the federal Bureau of Land Management’s Campbell Tract and moved to an area closer to neighborhoods a few blocks south of the busy intersection at Tudor Road and Lake Otis Parkway. Police closed another intersection, at Lake Otis and Dowling Road, and officials were asking residents to stay out of the area as firefighting efforts continued Tuesday evening.

The Anchorage Police Department had issued evacuation notices for the Campbell Creek Science Center, Manoog’s Isle mobile home park and homes around 50th Avenue and Folker Street.

Police had set up an evacuation center at Wendler Middle School and said city buses would help transport those who couldn’t drive themselves. Residents evacuated from nearby neighborhoods began arriving at the school shortly after 6 p.m.

Manoog’s Isle resident Bill Smith, 78, sat in a wheelchair in the parking lot, wishing for a cigarette and saying he worried about the fate of his home.

Anchorage resident Bill Smith, 78, waits at Wendler Middle School after being evacuated from his home in Manoog’s Isle trailer park as a brush fire burned on July 2, 2019.

Anchorage resident Bill Smith, 78, waits at Wendler Middle School after being evacuated from his home in Manoog’s Isle trailer park as a brush fire burned on July 2, 2019. (Photo by Kirsten Swann/Alaska Public Media)

“Everything I own is there,” he said. “If it goes, I’m screwed.”

Smith’s son, Oengus Ravenwood, said he’d left work as soon as he heard about the fire, navigating thick traffic across town to help evacuate his father and his dog, Kodi, from the home they all shared.

“Everything we own is in that trailer,” he said. “I’ve got my truck, but without that house, we’ve got nothing.”

The fire grew to within a half-mile of residences, but due to containment efforts officials canceled evacuation notices by 7 p.m.

At a press conference Tuesday evening, Anchorage Fire Chief Jodie Hettrick said the cause of the fire is yet to be determined.

“We are focused on the active fire attack,” Hettrick said.

Alaska Public Media’s Kirsten Swann and Zachariah Hughes, as well as Alaska’s Energy Desk’s Nat Herz, contributed reporting.

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