Munson Creek Fire Balloons at approximately 8,900 acres; Borough issues evacuation notice for residents at end of Chena Hot Springs Road – AK Fire Info

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The Munson Creek fire burning just south of Chena Hot Springs 50 miles northeast of Fairbanks spread to nearly 9,000 acres on Thursday and the Fairbanks North Star Borough issued a “Set” evacuation advisory for residents living east of Mile 48 Chena Hot Springs Road and guests at Chena Hot Springs.

The blaze reached a rocky, alpine ridge about 2 miles south of Chena Hot Springs on Thursday morning, a trigger point for firefighters to take action to extinguish the blaze.

By 6 p.m., around 80 firefighters were working to keep the blaze on top of the ridge using water drops and airplane retarders. Two tankers are used to lay a fire-retardant line along a four-wheeled trail in front of the fire to protect two yurts belonging to Chena Hot Springs and a remote automated weather station. Three helicopters are used to drop water over the head of the fire at the top of the ridge.

The Munson Creek fire approximately 2 miles south of Chena Hot Springs burns through black spruce on Thursday afternoon, July 1, 2021. Tony Chapman / BLM Alaska Fire Service Air Attack

Firefighters also conducted a ridge-top burn operation to burn vegetation in front of the fire and yurts to steal fuel from it when it reached the burn line.

A “Together” evacuation notice means that residents should have their bags and important items packed and be ready to leave their homes immediately if necessary. The evacuation notice will be reassessed daily based on fire activity and weather conditions.

After four days of slow burning and minimal fire spread due to cloud cover and higher relative humidity, the Munson Creek fire exploded Wednesday and Thursday with hot, dry conditions and bright sunshine. The blaze grew from about 500 acres as of Wednesday morning to about 8,900 acres by 5 p.m., according to air attack personnel flying over the blaze to coordinate planes dropping water and the retarder. Ashes from the fire fell at Chena Hot Springs.

Fire officials had speculated the blaze was much larger than 500 acres, but smoky conditions prevented aircraft and ground personnel from getting an accurate perimeter until Thursday.

At 6 p.m., the fire was about half a mile south of the yurts and a refuge on the Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Springs Trail. The fire is located approximately 3 km south of Chena Hot Springs.

A team of 18 firefighters monitored the blaze over the past week from a high point where the yurts are located, as well as assessing structures in the area to develop a plan to protect structures if progress to Chena Hot Springs and cabins and residences at the end of Chena Hot Springs Road. Two other crews were ordered to burn down on Thursday, along with three engines from Fairbanks Area Forestry and two bulldozers to build control lines around the structures. A Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) has been put in place over the fire area to ensure a safe working environment for firefighting aircraft and pilots are advised to avoid the area. For more information on the TFR, visit https://tfr.faa.gov/save_pages/detail_1_3583.html.

The fire became active with the warmer and drier weather on Wednesday, retreating a ridge to the west side and moving slightly north along the ridge. The wind pushed the southern end of the fire through Munson Creek. Most of the fire growth occurred east of the creek, where the wind direction and slope aligned and allowed the fire to rise straight up. The fire behavior included flames running and running through black spruce with spots at close range.

On Thursday morning, thick smoke from the fire blew over Fairbanks and surrounding areas. Hot, dry weather is expected to continue on Friday before a cooler, wetter weather system enters the interior over the weekend.

A large column of smoke from the Munson Creek fire rises into the sky at the end of Chena Hot Springs Road.
The smoke column from the Munson Creek fire is visible along Chena Hot Springs Road between miles 40 and 45 on Thursday afternoon, July 1, 2021. Cathie Harms / Alaska DNR-Division of Forestry

The impressive column of smoke from the blaze was clearly visible Thursday from Fairbanks, the North Pole, Eielson Air Force Base and Delta Junction.

Due to increased fire activity, Alaska State Parks closed the Angel Rocks Trail with immediate effect. The Angel Rocks Trail at Chena Hot Springs also remains closed.

The Munson Creek fire was started by lightning on June 18. The fire was extinguished in recent cool and humid weather. Because no house, cabin, or other structure is in its direct path, the Munson Creek fire is allowed to burn in order to reduce combustibles, create a mosaic of different types of habitat, and reduce the danger of future fire, similar to a natural fire regime. Fire is an essential ecological process in the Alaskan boreal forest ecosystem.

Munson Creek Fire comes alive with warmer, drier weather; Angel Rocks Trail closed

Categories: Active Forest Fire, AK Fire Info

Tags: Chena Hot Springs, Munson Creek Fire


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