Sockeye Wildland Fire Destroys Homes And Forces Evacuations

The wildland fire known as the Sockeye Fire has grown to an estimated 7,000 acres and has already destroyed forty to fifty structures. The fire began on June 14 at about 1:15 in the afternoon, and the the dry, hot weather quickly fueled its growth. Officials say that the fire was likely human caused. The fire gets its name from its starting location, Sockeye Road in Willow, Alaska. It is approximately eighty miles away from the city of Anchorage.

Wildland fires are common in several areas of the United States in the summer, mostly in the Southwest. Many of these fires are from lightning strikes or other natural activity, but some, like the Sockeye fire, are believed to have been caused by people. Fireworks have been named as a possible cause for the fire, but the exact cause remains unknown.

Other fires have been reported in Alaska this year, such as a lightning strike fire near the Kenai Peninsula, but the Sockeye Fire is by far the largest. The wildland fire near the Kenai Peninsula, for example, only covered a modest 150 acres at its worst.

The Willow, Alaska, area between Miles 65-78 of the Parks Highway, west to the Susitna River and two miles east of the highway were evacuated as a result of the wildland fire. Approximately 2,000 people live in the area. One evacuation center even had to be evacuated itself as the fire grew. Animals are included in the evacuation orders. The Alaska State Fair grounds have taken in horses displaced by the wildland fire, and a list of designated animal shelters has been posted by animal control.

Fire crews from the lower 48 states, as well as from Anchorage, have been brought in to contain the fire. Thunderstorms in the area have both helped and hindered those who are trying to stop the massive wildland fire. While rain can douse certain sections of the fire, the great gusts of wind that accompany the storms can make the fire much worse.

While residents are eager to return to their homes, as recently as Wednesday authorities have warned against returning to the area too soon.

“Please don’t go in there. It’s unsafe for you. It’s unsafe for the firefighters,” warned emergency manager Casey Cook. Even in areas where the wildland fire is supposedly extinguished, the hot and dry conditions could easily make it ignite again. “Hot spots” could also still exist. He acknowledged that many residents wanted to know if their homes had survived the fire.

As of June 21, the wildland fire was stated to be 53 percent contained. Officals stated that travel restrictions would remain in effect for the area until Monday, June 22.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)