Officials lowered evacuation levels for the McKinley Fire between Willow and Talkeetna Monday, allowing some residents to get into their homes.
The fire is reportedly holding at about 3,300 acres and is a little less than 50 percent contained.
The Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team and Matanuska-Susitna Borough say Level 3 evacuees from residences in the area of the Parks Highway milepost 81.5 to 92 were reduced to Level 2 Monday at noon, allowing them to re-enter properties evacuated Sunday, August 17th. The Level 2, or “Set” designation means those residents will still need to be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.
The current Level 2 status for those residences in the area of the Parks Highway from milepost 79 to 81.9 has been reduced to a Level 1 or “Ready” status. The current Level 1 classification for mileposts 76 to 79 has been removed.
While the McKinley Fire has not had any significant fire growth since last week, the interagency management team says it still poses a danger and officials are warning residents about possible hazards for reentering their property.
Kale Casey, a public information officer with the Division of Forestry says fire-weakened trees can stay upright for days or weeks and fall over without warning hitting people, homes or power lines, and there are hot “ash pits” people can accidentally step into.
“It’s never going to be a safe environment for many more weeks,” Casey said. “There’s no way we can mop up everything and get all those trees down in the next couple weeks.”
Firefighters continue to work in the area, still battling active burning fire within the interior, which managers say will take weeks to secure.
Division of Forestry Safety Officer Tom Grieling says working around members of the public, instead of on a remote wildland fire, poses a challenge as the crews are getting more calls for help and trying to focus on primary objectives for fighting the fire.
“We’ve got the upper hand on this fire. We need to maintain that upper hand and take advantage of every component of being the bully that we can right now,” Grieling said. “Part of that is the public’s cooperation. Help us be the bully by cooperating with us. Make it easy for the firefighters. We’ve got to kick this thing while it’s down right now.”
Conditions remain drier than usual and fire officials say they expect more warming, drying and light winds this week.
At last report, the Parks Highway remained open in both directions around the fire with special speed restrictions of 45 miles per hour between mileposts 84 and 92.