TALKEETNA — During the days that followed the Montana Creek Fire, with resources stretched so thin across the state, Mat-Su Borough and Division of Forestry officials had a major concern.
And another fire, the Malaspina Fire, was reported Sunday afternoon, about a mile away from the Montana Creek Fire. Mat-Su Borough Emergency Services Director Ken Barkley said the close proximity of the two fires helped crews quickly attack the new fire.
“The factor was we were nearby,” Barkley said in Talkeetna Sunday evening.
The Malaspina Fire was at about 85 acres with 20 percent contained as of Tuesday, according to the Division of Forestry. In an update Monday evening, forestry officials said there were two properties in the area of the fire designated for a Level 3 go order. Sunday night, the Level 3 evacuation order was issued to residents living in the area of Alatria Road south to Makuskin Road and Southfork Road west to the entire South Malaspina Loop. Most of that area was dropped back to a Level 2 alert. Division of Forestry Public Information Officer Stephanie Bishop said, with the Level 2 order, residents are advised to be prepared to be ready to leave within five minutes after the Level 3 order is issued. It’s all part of the borough emergency evacuation plan which includes Level 1 ready, Level 2 set, Level 3 go.
There is an evacuation center set up at the Upper Susitna Senior Center across from Susitna Valley Jr./Sr. High School on East Helena Drive.
In an update Tuesday, forestry officials said area with the Level 2 order includes 107 residences and outbuildings.
The Malaspina Fire was first reported at about 3:30 p.m. Sunday, and had grown to an estimated size of 60 to 80 acres within three hours.
At about 9 p.m. Sunday, Barkley said that the fire had, “ slowed down.”
“Being a few miles down the road is what made the difference,” Barkley said. “To have this many resources on a fire that quick is almost unprecedented.”
Barkley said crews were able to attack the fire by air quickly. That allowed ground crews to get started setting the perimeter. Barkley said borough fire units were also able to work to protect homes in the area.
One structure and an outbuilding were reported lost Sunday evening.
Even though only about a mile separated the Montana Creek Fire and the initial location of the Malaspina Fire, Barkley said there is no reason to believe at this time that the fires are related.
“It’s highly unlikely,” Barkley said.
Air tankers were used to drop retardant on the fire, and water scoopers and helicopters dropped water on the fire. Multiple crews and 16 smokejumpers built the perimeter overnight.
A Type 2 Incident Management Team from Washington was also brought in to lead the battle against both the Montana Creek and Malaspina fires. The Montana Creek Fire, which was first reported about 3 p.m. on July 3, was at about 365 acres, as of Tuesday, with about 30 percent of the fire contained. Division of Forestry officials said there are about 150 crewmembers total working to fight both fires.
Mary Ann Campbell lives with her husband in the Yoder Road area that was evacuated Sunday night.
“It’s a little bit like the November earthquake stress,” Campbell said.
Campbell said she would estimate that about half the homes in the subdivision are occupied by full-time residents.
“All of our weekenders are usually every weekend,” Campbell said.
Campbell said she didn’t pack when the Montana Creek Fire was reported on July 3, but she was mentally prepared.
“I knew exactly in my mind how I was going to do it,” Campbell said.
Campbell, who is self-employed, said she made sure she had everything she needs to continue to keep her business running, and all of her husband’s tools, just in case they have to rebuild.
“We’re pretty hearty Alaskans,” Campbell said. “I can live in a wall tent if I have to. We own 50 acres. It’s paid for. We’re not going anywhere.
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