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Alaska wildfires keep many indoors

Wildfires in Alaska, Canada force evacuations, health warnings, as response organizations, local residents provide aid to evacuees

BY MONICA OLIVAS | NENANA, AK | July 22, 2009


"It gets pretty bad, your eyes water. Some people keep their kids inside"

—Mayor Jason Mayrand, Nenana


Residents of this Alaska community are avoiding the outdoors in order to keep away from the thick smoke and ash. The Railbelt fire is blazing just miles away from the town.

"It gets pretty bad, your eyes water. Some people keep their kids inside," Mayor of Nenana, Jason Mayrand said.

But, even staying inside doesn't get residents away from all the smoke. One resident of Healy, Alaska, had her smoke detector going off inside her home.

Normally this part of the country is light all day, but the thick ash in the sky is forcing residents to drive with headlights on because visibility is so poor.

The Railbelt fire, just one of the several blazes in the state, has already burned more than 200,000 acres. According to the Alaska Forestry Service, water bombing near the area have kept the flames 1- miles away from nearby cabins and they continue to fight back the flames.

Wildfires are an annual occurrence for the state, but residents near the Minato Flats South Fire, which has caused the most damage, believe this to be one of the worst.

“Wildfires and smoke are a habitual thing here in Alaska. We’re not happy about that. But it does seem a little worse this year,” Mayrand said.

Despite the fire being so close the city of Nenana, it has had no mandatory evacuations. But some residents are choosing to keep their distance from the area. “When the smoke gets really thick, the elderly folks and young babies take up to Fairbanks,” Mayrand explained.

But residents of Glenrosa in the west bank of Kelowna, British Columbia, weren’t as lucky. On Saturday, 10,000 residents were required to leave their homes due to wildfires in that area.

Pastor Jonathan Asmus of the Redeemer Lutheran Church in Westbank, British Columbia, was forced to cancel Sunday services because the nearby area had been evacuated. A few roads around the church were closed and the building was very smoky Saturday night.

“It could have potentially been a terrible thing. But, everyone coordinated so much. It was an amazing response,” Pastor Asmus said. His office was about two kilometers from the blaze.

The Salvation Army has been among disaster response organizations that have responded to the blaze. The Army provided more than 2,000 meals to displaced Kelowna residents, firefighters, and to other emergency staff and volunteers. As of Tuesday afternoon, approximately 3,500 residents were still in shelters or hotels, but the rest of the evacuees were able to return home.

The community outreach and response is credited for making the evacuation run smoothly.

Residents opened up their homes, offering shelter, parking for boats as well as places for horses to be secured.

“It brings out the best in people. You wouldn't believe the donations, people providing services and their homes. They house horses, boats, anything,” Kirsten Jones, Public Information Officer for the area’s Emergency Operation Center, said.

The fire has burned more than 700 acres and destroyed three homes and one trailer. It was 60 percent contained as of Tuesday afternoon.

Another major fire in the area, the Terrace Mountain fire, has burned 2,000 acres but it is in a less populated area, forcing just 13 people from their homes.


Related Topics:

Neighborhoods face fire rebuilding

Impact of CA fires may be long-term

Survivors struggle, help others


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