Denali National Park closure continues as Outside wildfire crews arrive

a hotshot crew
The U.S. Forest Service Mill Creek Hotshots from California arrived on a jet from the Lower 48 Monday, July 1, 2024. The crew will head to the Riley Fire on Tuesday. (From Karin Butterfield/BLM AFS)

Fire managers are reporting progress on the Riley Fire near the entrance to Denali National Park and Preserve, but operations will remain suspended again Tuesday.

“The park will remain closed to all private vehicles and day users,” said park spokesperson Paul Ollig. “We will not be allowing any campground or backcountry permit holders into the park that aren’t already in their campsites west of headquarters, and there will be no tour or transit buses operating either.”

The Alaska Railroad canceled passenger trains to Denali Monday, and power remained out in the fire area. The Riley Fire stayed west of the Nenana River Monday. Alaska Fire Service spokesperson Beth Ipsen says ground and aerial firefighting efforts were successful slowing the edge of the blaze closest to river and railroad tracks.

“Especially with the helicopters, because it’s a very narrow canyon, and they were able to do several rounds, dipping out of a nearby lake and dropping water on the fire,” Ipsen said.

Cooler weather aided suppression efforts on the Riley Fire Monday, and more firefighters were brought on board. Ipsen says two of four hotshot crews that arrived from the Lower 48 Monday were sent to the Riley Fire, while the other two were deployed to the Grapefruit Complex fires along the Elliott Highway, where there’s increased concern about spread.

“A lot of growth not only on the Globe Fire, but to the south, the Iver and Slate Fires, which have grown together, getting closer to the Elliot Highway from the south, so there’s a good chance the two could meet,” Ipsen said.

A Level 3 “Go” evacuation order for the Grapefruit Complex fires has been expanded to include Elliott Highway miles 30 to 50. Wildfires burning around the Interior are expected to be slowed by a change in the weather, but Ipsen cautions the transition could be trouble.

“We should have some cooler, wetter weather moving in but right before that weather moves in, that front moves in, we’ll get wind, so we could see substantial fire growth on a lot of the fires,” she said.

Over 300 wildfires have burned nearly 450,000 acres in Alaska so far this season. The state moved to the highest level of wildfire preparedness Sunday.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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