Denali National Park set to reopen Wednesday as downpour helps wildfire crews

a burned forest
Some areas of the Riley Fire have experienced partial burn patterns, leaving some fuels intact but burning through root systems that weaken standing trees. (From Al Nash/Alaska Division of Forestry)

Denali National Park will reopen Wednesday after a wildfire near its entrance forced the park’s closure for more than a week during the busy tourist season.

“The plan right now is for the park to resume normal operations as of 4:30 a.m. Wednesday,” said park spokesman Paul Ollig.

Cool, rainy weather over the weekend helped crews fight the Riley Fire, which started last Sunday and grew to roughly 430 acres.

Ollig said the popular Riley Creek Campground and Horseshoe Lake Trail will temporarily remain closed, as both are being used by fire crews.

Alaska Division of Forestry spokesman Al Nash said work has focused on the Riley Fire’s east-southeast perimeter, near Alaska Railroad tracks and the Parks Highway.

“Those are the parts of the fire that are closest to the railroad, the road, the river canyon and the developed areas inside the park,” Nash said.

RELATED: Denali National Park bars visitors as wildfire burns near entrance

Nash said as of late Sunday, the fire was more than 30% contained. He emphasized that work remains to be done, despite the rain.

“It does not mean that rain necessarily penetrates the dense canopy of a thick forest, so it doesn’t get down to the ground,” he said.

Under such conditions, Nash said, the roots of bushes and trees can continue to burn.

“That’s why firefighters really do go around the perimeter and seek out that heat several yards in from the edge of the fire, to make sure there isn’t something that’s still hot that could still rekindle,” he said.

Nash anticipates that firefighters have several more days of work on the Riley Fire.

Ollig said evacuation orders eased over the weekend, allowing employees relocated from park housing to the local school and area churches to return.

He said electricity was also restored to the fire zone, including the park entrance area, but the extended outage resulted in some lost food.

“So over the next couple of days, our park concessioner is going to be restocking those supplies, getting rid of all the food items that spoiled, and just going through and making sure that everything is up and running,” Ollig said.

The National Park Service is seeking the public’s assistance determining the cause of the fire, which began along railroad tracks on June 30 between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

“(We’re) soliciting information from people who may have been on that midday southbound train or may have been on some trails in the area,” Nash said.

Those trails include Horseshoe Lake, Mount Healy and Sugarloaf and Sourdough mountains, Nash said.

RELATED: Denali and Fairbanks-area fires disrupt tourists and communities in Alaska

The closure has happened during what’s normally the busiest time of the year at Denali, causing a revenue hit for the park and area tourism businesses. Ollig said anyone who missed out on park reservations has been refunded, but there are very limited openings to re-book this summer.

 | Website

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

Previous articleAs breaking makes its Olympic debut, an Anchorage dancer is focused on growing the sport in Alaska
Next article2 Wasilla women found dead after suspected carbon monoxide poisoning