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'Attack mode' Crews continue to battle Montana Creek fire

TALKEETNA — In a matter of hours late Wednesday afternoon, a fire in the Montana Creek area that was initially reported to be a few acres grew to a blaze of more than 200.

Ground and aerial crews from Oregon, Canada and across Alaska continued to fight the fire Thursday, about 2.5 miles east of the Parks Highway near Montana Creek Road, south of the Talkeetna cutoff.

Division of Forestry Public Information Officer Stephanie Bishop said, as of about 11 a.m. Thursday, the fire stood at about 250 acres. There was zero percent containment, but retardant around about 90 percent of the area.

“Our main objective today, continue initial attack on the fire and get the perimeter set,” Bishop told reporters during a press conference in Talkeetna.

Bishop said there is still no known cause and the fire is under investigation. Bishop also said investigators have not been able to pinpoint the exact location of the start of the fire.

“We are still trying to get to that area to access it,” Bishop said.

Bishop also said there were no structures lost or injuries reported prior to the press conference.

On Wednesday, Bishop said there were 138 crewmembers fighting the fire and there was support from 10 different air assets. Heavy equipment operators were brought in Thursday.

The Mat-Su Borough issued an evacuation alert on Wednesday.

“What a Level 1 advisement is to make sure they have an evacuation route ready to go, an evacuation kit ready to go,” Bishop said.

Bishop also said there have been residents of the early who have voluntarily evacuated.

The Level 1 alter was issued about 6:55 p.m. Wednesday.

There is an evacuation center already set up at the Upper Susitna Senior Center across from Susitna Valley Jr./Sr. High School on East Helena Drive. Paul Bossart, of the American Red Cross, was one of about eight people setting up at the evacuation shelter late Wednesday afternoon.

“We are here to support the people, anything they need,” Bossart said. “We have water. We have food, and a safe place for them.”

Bossart said if there’s a need, the facility will have plenty of people to help those who potentially cannot return to their homes.

Mat-Su Borough Emergency Services Director Ken Barkley said there were no immediate plans to issue an evacuation order, but residents in the area need to be ready.

“We feel pretty confident we have a handle on it. We have some top notch crews on the fire,” Barkley said. “We want everyone to be prepared, have everything packed if needed.”

Barkley said the biggest worry is another fire.

“Our main concern right now is if we have another fire. Our resources throughout the sate are at its max,” Barkley said. “With the dry conditions, we’re very concerned. In the Mat-Su Borough, our responders are stripped as thin as we can go right now.”

Thomas Scott first noticed the first about 3:30 p.m.

“I’ve never seen something like this so close to town,” Scott said. “I’m a little concerned for people who have homes. I don’t want people to loose their homes. I’m no firefighter, but it looks like they’re putting in a lot of resources, doing everything they can to put it out.”

Guy Rohde watched Wednesday as smoke filled the sky.

“I’m really nervous,” Rohde, who owns a cabin in the area, said. “I’ve got a lot of memories down there. I really hope everything goes well. I hope they get it put out.”

Rohde spent the late afternoon and early evening Wednesday frantically searching for updates online about the fire that had been burning about two miles east of Montana Creek Road, and keeping tabs of the conditions in the area.

“I’ve been driving the highway, keeping up with where the wind was going,” Rohde said.

DeAnn Autrey watched the smoke rise over Montana Creek in front of her cabin as she watched from her balcony listening to public radio.

“I’m a little worried. I’ve never seen anything like this,” Autrey said.

This is a developing story. Continue to see for more.

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Pastor Ethan Hansen

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