Firefighters continue work near Soldotna, Tyonek and the Dalton Highway

ANCHORAGE (AP) — Residents of Anchorage awoke to gray skies and the smell of burning forests as smoke from wildfires on the Kenai Peninsula blew north.

The Alaska Interagency Management Team says the Funny River Fire south of Soldotna has burned more than 69 square miles in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Fire officials say 168 people are fighting the fire. Firefighters want to keep flames from crossing Funny River Road, where they could spread to the communities of Sterling and Kasilof.

The Tyonek Fire has burned another three square miles across Cook Inlet. It's being fought with 108 people on the ground and in the air.

Crews Wednesday focused on controlled burn-out operations to protect the Beluga power plant, which supplies power to Anchorage.

The fire destroyed a cabin and two outbuildings, fire spokesman Pete Buist said. It had not reached the Beluga power station, which burns natural gas and provides power to Anchorage.

“It’s an issue, but it’s not imminent,” he said.

That fire moved south Tuesday had prompted a short evacuation of Tyonek. Winds dropped, residents returned to Tyonek and the fire became more active in the north toward Beluga, where just 20 people live.

Three 20-person ground crews concentrated efforts on the north end, assisted by air tankers dropping retardant and three helicopters dropping buckets of water, Buist said. The Nikiski Fire Department worked on creating “defensible space” around cabins and a compressor station, Buist said.

Far to the north in interior Alaska, 16 smokejumpers worked to protect buildings from a fire east of the Dalton Highway at the Yukon River Bridge. Structures west of the highway, including a restaurant and cabins, could be in the fire’s path if it crosses the highway.

The fire Wednesday afternoon was a mile or two from the highway and the tran-Alaska pipeline. It was burning west and could cross over the pipeline and reach the highway Wednesday night, Buist said.

Wildfires have crossed the metal pipeline in the past, he said, without causing major damage.

05/22/2014 - 6:08am