Update: Sunday, 10:15 p.m.

The Parks Highway will be closed from Mile 70 to 92 until late Monday morning at the earliest, according to the latest update provided by the Alaska State Troopers

Update: Sunday, 9 p.m.

More inside

Authorities have issued a mandatory evacuation order for both sides of the Parks Highway from Mile 82 to 91. Residents must leave immediately, Alaska State Troopers said. The Parks Highway is now closed at Mile 70. Mat-Su Borough officials also said the northern closure has been pushed from Mile 91 to Mile 99 at Talkeetna Spur Road.

Update: Sunday, 8 p.m.

Authorities have issued a mandatory evacuation order for both sides of the Parks Highway from Mile 82 to 91. Residents must leave immediately, Alaska State Troopers said. The Parks Highway is now closed at Mile 70.

Update: Sunday, 6:50 p.m.

The McKinley Fire has jumped the Parks Highway near Mile 88. Authorities have issued a mandatory evacuation order for the Hidden Hills and Caswell Lakes area due to the McKinley Fire. This includes all residences in the area. The Parks Highway is also now closed from Mile 85 to 92, according to the Alaska State Troopers.

The Mat-Su School Borough School District also announced that four schools will be closed because of the increased danger because of the fires. Trapper Creek Elementary, Talkeetna Elementary, Willow Elementary and Susitna Valley Jr./Sr High School will be closed, according to district public information officer Jillian Morrissey.

The southern shelter has also been moved to the Menard Center in Wasilla, according to AST.

Update: Sunday, 3:15 p.m.

As crews continue to battle a pair of major fires in the Willow area, a new fire has sparked on the other end of the Mat-Su Valley.

The Alaska Division of Forestry has responded to a wildfire near Mile 72.9 of the Glenn Highway. According to forestry officials, the fire, reported just before 2 p.m. Sunday, was started by a downed power line. The fire, just south of Fish Lake, is located about 3.5 miles west of Chickaloon.

“Six firefighters are on scene, but the steep terrain and strong winds are hindering containment on that fire,” Forestry officials said in update.

Update: Sunday, 2:15 p.m.

The Division of Forestry is evacuating the first mile of Hidden Hills Road, according to the Mat-Su Borough. Hidden Hills Road is just south of the Sheep Creek Lodge at Mile 88 of the Parks Highway.

Crews continue to battle fires on both sides of the Parks Highway in the Willow area.

The Deshka Fire grew between 600 and 1,000 acres overnight, according to an update provided by the Division of Forestry Sunday morning. The fire has reached Rolly Creek, and has been closing in on the South Rolly Campground. Nancy Lake Parkway is now closed at Mile 2.2. Alaska State Parks officials have started issuing evacuation notices to those staying in cabins in the Red Shirt Lake area. Forestry officials said those who have vehicles parked at the Red Shirt Lake trailhead will be allowed to leave, despite the road closure.

While the Deshka Fire grew significantly overnight, the McKinley Fire remains at about 150 acres, as of the Sunday morning report. An evacuation order remains for an area east of the Parks Highway from Mile 88 to 93. Evacuation centers at the Willow Community Center and the Upper Susitna Senior Center remain open.

The Mat-Su Borough is hosting a press conference Sunday at 1 p.m. It will be streamed live on its Facebook page.

Continue to see frontiersman.com for more.

Original story

WASILLA — As heavy winds punished power lines, reports of wildfires began to blow in. By about 3:30 p.m. Saturday, emergency crews were already stretched thin.

Mat-Su Borough Emergency Services director Ken Barkley said five wildfires and two structure fires were reported early Saturday afternoon.

“In two hours, that’s how many calls we’ve had,” Barkley said by cell phone. “We are getting short on resources.”

Barkley said those fires were basically contained. But that turned out to be the calm before the storm.

A section of the Parks Highway was closed and residents in an area were forced to evacuate after a “wind-driven wildfire” was reported late Saturday afternoon.

The McKinley Fire was initially reported at 4:20 p.m. Saturday. In the hours that followed, the fire grew rapidly to about 140 acres due to high winds, and the Parks Highway was closed from Mile 88 to 93. The initial evacuation order included residents of Wild Bill Way, Yancy Drive and the Mat-Su RV Park and Campground. Later Saturday evening, the Division of Forestry expanded the evacuation zone to include a section each of the Parks Highway from Mile 88 to 93.

By Saturday evening, crews were battling wildfires on both sides of the Parks Highway. In the Division of Forestry’s final update Saturday night officials said, “firefighters continue to work furiously to contain two wildfires burning about 20 miles apart on the opposite side of the Parks Highway.”

Earlier Saturday, the Division of Forestry also reported another fire about 22 miles away. The Deshka Landing Fire has an estimated size of about 200 acres, as of 10 p.m. Saturday. The fire is near Mile 68 of the Parks Highway, and only about a half-mile from South Rolly Campground. It is also close to Red Shirt Lake.

Local fire departments are assisting in the protection of structures potentially threatened by the fire, forestry officials said. AST is urging residents in the area to prepare for a potential evacuation order.

The Alaska Railroad also announced Saturday evening that it is stopping all rail traffic five miles north and south of the fire. The six-mile stretch of the Parks Highway that was temporarily closed was re-opened about 10 p.m. Saturday, but traffic was restricted to a pilot car escort.

A second evacuation shelter was also set up, according to Mat-Su Borough officials. Those impacted on the south side of the Parks Highway closure can go to the Willow Community Center. A shelter had already been set up at the Upper Susitna Senior Center in Talkeetna, which can help those on the north side of the road closure. The Red Cross of Alaska manned both evacuation centers.

As people poured into the Willow Community Center to find sanctuary after the evacuation, American Red Cross shelter worker Marshall Watson explained the disaster relief workers will be accepting evacuees throughout the night.

Watson said they have numerous cots and blankets along with food and water. They also ordered a lot of pizza. He said they will see how the night progresses to determine who needs an overnight stay, and who simply needed a pitstop and rest on their way back home.

Wayne and Cendy Magnuson were forced to leave their home near milepost 89, near the Sheep Creek Lodge. They found out about the reinstated evacuation around 5:30 p.m. and quickly made their way to the community center for refuge.

“So we evacuated and everybody's coming out and smoke was everywhere. You could see the orange behind it,” Cendy said

Wayne said they didn't have time to pack, so all they essentially had with them was their two dogs and the clothes on their backs.

“I’m just glad we made it out alive and I hope everyone else does,” Cendy said.

Everything they own is up the road, uncomfortably close to the inferno. The couple has fire insurance but they really don’t want to have to use it.

“We could lose everything,” Cendy said.

Cendy said that she was in a fire when she was 16 and her sister died during the incident.

“So I know how fast fire can move. I’m devastated,” Cendy said.

“I think it sucks,” Wayne said.

“And my dogs think it sucks too,” Cendy said with a laugh.

Talking about the situation seemed to help the couple wrap their minds around their sudden circumstances.

“It’s horrible. It’s horrible. I pray for everybody. God will take care of us. Like I said, we can rebuild. People, you can’t give back their lives. I hope everyone follows the evacuation and is safe,” Cendy said.

Before the news of the McKinley Fire broke, Mat-Su Borough Emergency Services director Ken Barkley said five wildfires and two structure fires were reported Saturday.

“In two hours, that’s how many calls we’ve had,” Barkley said by cell phone. “We are getting short on resources.”

Barkley said borough crews have had help.

“Forestry has been helping out tremendously,” Barkley said.

All five wildfires were started by power lines that were knocked down by the wind, Barkley said. One is burning in Willow. The Lucky Shot Fire, in the Willow Creek Parkway area, is contained, Barkley said. Barkley estimated a size of about three to five acres. As of about 3:30 p.m. Saturday, there was an evacuation notice in place and an evacuation center was set up at the Willow United Methodist Church. That order has since been rescinded.

Another fire was reported in the Meadow Lakes area, at Carriage Lane. Barkley said the fire, about 1.5 acres in size, is contained and no structures are currently threatened.

There was also a fire near Mile 91 of the Parks Highway, off Yancey and Merlin. Crews were released from that scene to assist with other fires, according to an update from borough officials about 3:30.

Barkley said the afternoon also included reports of a structure fire in Talkeetna and another off Fairview Loop. Both are not related to the wind, Barkley said.

Contact the Frontiersman at news@frontiersman.com.

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