East Anchorage wildfire no longer growing, investigation into its cause continues

A Fireman spraying water on burnt trees.
A fire crewman on Friday works to put out fire that still remains underground in East Anchorage. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Fire crews are continuing to work on a 13-acre wildland fire in East Anchorage that ignited in a wooded area Thursday near Campbell Park.

The fire is at least 50% contained and no longer growing, said Mike McMillan, a spokesperson for the Division of Forestry. Nearby roads are reopened.

By Friday afternoon, McMillan said fire crews had cut a line with chainsaws around the fire area and would work through the weekend. A 21-person hotshot crew is expected to arrive Friday evening.

“It becomes, basically, the drudgery of a wildfire,” McMillan said. “It’s just a long mop up. And it’s not exciting work. It’s just dirty, and they just gotta keep pumping water onto it, and working from the outside in. And their goal is 100% out.”

The fire did not damage any buildings and no homes were evacuated. A nearby power substation and natural gas pressure relief valve were “of concern,” said Anchorage Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Alex Boyd, but the fire never got close enough to threaten them.

McMillan said the large, coordinated response and the absence of gusty winds helped keep the fire from growing any larger.

a plane drops red retardant on flames near a road
Tanker 540 drops a load of retardant on the Elmore Fire on Thursday, June 23, 2022. The fire in East Anchorage was responded to by Alaska Division of Forestry, JBER and Anchorage fire departments. (Mike McMillan/Alaska Division of Forestry)

McMillan said what sparked the fire is still unknown, but fire officials are ruling out possible causes and have interviewed people living in homeless camps in the area.

“We know it wasn’t lightning and we know it wasn’t powerlines so we’re narrowing down the causes there,” he said. “And we sent a fire investigator to try to determine the cause at the point of origin of the fire.”

In 2019, a fire burned close to the same area and was ignited by a flare fired into some grass.

As hot and dry conditions persist in Anchorage, the city has prohibited open fires and warns of “very high fire danger.” Anchorage is on track to have its warmest June on record. Climate change-induced warming temperatures are causing wildland fires to become more frequent and intense in Alaska. 

McMillan said fire crews remain cautious with the fire in East Anchorage.

“Until they mop up deep enough, maybe 50 feet, they won’t bump up that containment,” he said.

RELATED: This month is on track to be the warmest June on record in Anchorage

a group of firefighers in smokey woods
Alaska Division of Forestry firefighters work on the Elmore Fire in East Anchorage. (Mike McMillan/Alaska Division of Forestry)
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Kavitha George is the host of Alaska Morning News at Alaska Public Media. She also reports on business, labor and the economy. Reach her at kgeorge@alaskapublic.org.