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Area evacuated as Alaska wildfire grows

May 26, 2014 - 6:09am

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A wildfire chewing through the forest in an Alaskan wildlife refuge has expanded in size, prompting authorities to order the evacuation of 1,000 structures, officials said.

The massive fire in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula covered nearly 243 square miles and was 30 percent contained, according to a posting Sunday night on the Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team’s Facebook page. It was burning in the 1.9 million-acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The number of people told to flee their homes isn’t clear, said Michelle Weston, spokeswoman with Management Team, which includes the state Division of Forestry and federal and local officials.

The Funny River Fire is named after a nearby road where all residents were being evacuated. She says Alaska State Troopers were going door to door, evacuating an area that’s mostly second homes and is home to many retirees.

She says no injuries were reported, and it’s unclear if any buildings were damaged.

Wildfires in Alaska’s remote areas are not unusual during the summer months, with an average of a million acres burned each fire season, Weston said. But she said the state does not usually see such large fires this early in the season.

The state is experiencing unusually dry conditions because of unseasonably warm spring temperatures. High wind is also a challenge for crews.

Crews were attacking the fire by air, with two Alaska Air National Guard helicopters and five other helicopters involved, she said.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1941 as the Kenai National Moose Range and was aimed at moose protection. Wildlife viewing, fishing, camping and hiking attract visitors from around the world.