KTNA Studio – Dave Totten, artist

Photo by Deb Wessler

Photo by Dora Miller

KTNA Studio

KTNA On Air Studio, Jan 2013

Photo by Deb Wessler

Photo by James Trump

Winter Black-capped Chickadee

winter chickadee

Photo by Robin Song

Fish Lake morning

Fish Lake morning

photo: Robin Song


Thursday Noon Sockeye Fire Update

On Thursday, the official estimate of the size of the Sockeye Fire was reduced to 7,066 acres, a reduction of almost 500 acres. According to the Incident Command Post, the new number is due to more accurate mapping, particularly in the area of Willow Creek.


Efforts continue to prevent the expansion of the fire by creating a defensible perimeter. Yesterday, Incident Command Tom Kurth said that the crews are trying to change from a defensive posture to actively attacking the interior of the fire zone.


The evacuation area remains in effect at this time from Mile 63 to Mile 78.5 of the Parks Highway. There is a possibility that the evacuation zone could decrease in size today, but that has not happened yet. KTNA will provide an update if and when it does.


The Parks Highway is currently open, with pilot cars leading traffic one direction at a time, so expect delays if you are traveling.


There will be face-to-face information sessions for owners of property inside the fire zone from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. today at the Houston Middle School. For those who cannot make it, the borough has provided a phone number to call for information: 861-8500.


More information, including the most recent maps, updates on the small Upper Valley fires, and other sources of information can be found at ktna.org and on KTNA’s Facebook Page.


Live on-air updates, if needed, will occur at the top of the hour. Any urgent news will be provided as soon as it is confirmed.

Thursday evening Susitna Valley fire update



According to Celeste Prescott, Public Information Officer at the Sockeye Fire Incident Command Center, officials are considering making the evacuation zone fore the 7,555 acre wildfire smaller. She says the decision has not been finalized, and the current evacuation zone of Mile 63 to Mile 78.5 of the Parks Highway is still in effect.


Also, the Mat-Su Borough is compiling information from inside the Sockeye Fire zone and preparing to release more detailed information on structures lost and damaged. Property owners can call 861-8326 with their name, phone number, and address to receive information on their property once it’s available, according to Prescott.


Celeste Prescott says that the staff at the command post is “shocked and surprised” at the slow growth of the Sockeye Fire on Wednesday. She says part of that is attributable to luck, but most of it comes down to the hard work of the firefighters on the front lines.


While there is progress being made, high temperatures will mean continued fire danger. Celeste Prescott says that anyone who sees a new fire is encouraged to call it in to the Division of Forestry at 1-800-237-3633 or call 911. She says that a report that turns out to be nothing is preferable to missing a new fire in its early stages.

There is no change in the status of the Montana Creek fires. They are still considered “contained,” but are not completely out, yet. There is a fire in the Canyon Creek area of the Talkeetna Mountains that is being monitored. Retardant has been dropped around one cabin that was in the area, and it continues to be monitored from the air.

More information is expected late Thursday morning.

Susitna Valley fire updates

As of Wednesday afternoon, the latest estimate on the Sockeye Fire is 7,555 acres, up forty-three acres from yesterday. More than 400 firefighters are working around-the-clock to fight the fire, which began early Sunday afternoon, and is currently considered the highest priority wildfire in the country.


Tom Kurth, Incident Commander for Sockeye, says that crews are trying to go from a defensive to an offensive posture, meaning they want to begin attacking hot spots and working on containment. He says the situation is still “precarious,” with hot, dry weather in the forecast in coming days.


The Sockeye fire is estimated to have destroyed as many as 100 structures, at least 25 of which are residences. Assessments are underway as conditions allow.


Two lightning-caused fires in the Upper Valley last night are now considered contained, but are not completely out, yet. The fires are labeled Montana Creek East and Montana Creek West, and lie to the east of neighborhoods off of Montana Creek road. Geographically, the fires are much closer to Goose Creek than Montana Creek. On Thursday afternoon Celeste Prescott, Public Information Officer at the incident command post, reported that one of the Montana fires had begun to smoke at one point on Wednesday, but that the ground crews were still in the area, and were able to keep it from flaring up again.


On Wednesday morning, an additional fire report came in at the foot of the Talkeetna Mountains near the North Fork of the Kashwitna River. After multiple flyovers, Celeste Prescott says air crews were unable to locate a new fire. They now believe that the report was the result of smoke from the Montana Creek fire being confused for a new ignition.


A community meeting is scheduled at Houston Middle School at 7:00 p.m. for community members affected by the Sockeye Fire.


KTNA will continue to provide updates on the fires in the Susitna Valley on air, on Facebook, and online at KTNA.org.

State announces burn, fireworks bans

On Wednesday evening, the State of Alaska announced that open fires and the sale and use of fireworks are now banned on all state, municipal, and private property inside the Mat-Su Borough, Municipality of Anchorage, and Kenai Peninsula. The fire ban applies to all wood and charcoal fires, even in established rings. Gas grills, backpacking or camp stoves using fuel or compressed canisters that can be regulated and shut off are still permitted.

The bans come as wildfires are being fought in the Willow area, along the Sterling Highway, in Cooper Landing, and in the Interior.

Update: Montana Creek and Kashwitna Fires

Incident Command PIO Celeste Prescott says it now looks like there is no fire along the Kashwitna River. A call came in reporting smoke, and aircraft were dispatched. After repeatedly searching the area, Prescott says the aircraft were unable to locate any burning or smoke in the reported area. The reason the fire showed up on the map has to do with Forestry’s procedures once a report is made and an aircraft is dispatched.

Celeste Prescott says the ground crews are still on-scene at the Montana Creek fires. She says the Montana Creek West fire did start smoking again at one point, but the crew was there to keep it suppressed. Both fires are still considered contained, but not out, yet.

Upper Susitna Senior Center shelters area residents, travelers Sunday and Monday

Gretchen and Scott MacDonald

Gretchen and Scott MacDonald

Photos and Story by Katie Writer – KTNA

The Upper Susitna Senior Center on the Parks Highway offers shelter on the North end of the Sockeye Fire. Red Cross’ Gretchen MacDonald, head of Public Affairs of the Upper Su, and Shelter Manager, Scott MacDonald offered a safe haven for those in need during the road closure of the Parks Highway on Sunday, June 13th. A total of 168 people filled the shelter and parking lot form 8:00 pm to 3:00 am.


A majority of the travelers were out and about enjoying the beautiful weather on Sunday. Little did they know that their Sunday drive would turn into an overnighter.


“A lot of people just stayed in their cars, waiting. They said, ‘We don’t need the shelter. We just need to get out of here.’ So, they were very anxious to get on the road as quick as they could. ”


Many of the out-of-state travelers were feeling vulnerable due to the uncertainty of the situation as well as lack of lodging in the Talkeetna area.


Katie Writer: Did you get turned around on the [Parks] Highway?

Mary Perkins: We did. We sat out there about five hours. [Mary’s husband] is a diabetic and also has COPD, so he’s suffering, right now.”


Kristy Grove of Houston, Texas watched a dogsled team be fed in the parking lot of the Senior Center. While her immediate concern was catching her flight out of Anchorage the following day, she was equally concerned about the abnormal weather phenomena she would come home to in Texas.


“There is a storm coming up, and our other son said it can have between six and ten inches of rain, so we have had a lot of rain.”


There were far fewer people at the Shelter on Monday that actually live in the fire zone. While resting her granddaughter, Sophie on her shoulder, Willow resident Betty Patterson spoke about the importance of priorities when dealing with the decision to get out of the fire zone.


“In any devastation like this, materialistic things, homes and whatever, can be replaced, but lives can’t.IMG953365We’re just thankful that we have our family.”


The dog mushing community has also been hit hard by the Sockeye Fire. Iditarod mushers have teamed together for evacuee’s on the South end of the Fire, according to Gretchen MacDonald.


“We’ve had calls from mushers who have space available for fellow mushers, for their dogs. We’ve had offers of food. We don’t need them at this point, because we’re a transient shelter, right now.”


Willow musher Tracey Schaefer decided to play it safe by evacuating to the Senior Center with her 29 sled dogs, a house cat, and 4 house dogs. She said she had almost everything she needed.


“Right now, I’m ok. My trailer needs a little bit of WD-40.”


IMG953381As the Sockeye Fire continues to burn, multiple sources of information are available to Susitna Valley residents and those who may become stranded by the fire.


The phone number for the Red Cross volunteers at the Upper Susitna Senior Center is 907-355-3422


The Mat-Su Borough’s Evacuation Info line is 907/861-8326


The Statewide Fire Information hotline is: 907/892-9413

Those wishing to donate to the Red Cross shelters call 907-357-6060.


Those numbers and more information are available at ktna.org and on the KTNA Facebook page.



Wednesday morning Susitna Valley fire update

According to the Sockeye Fire incident command post, the Sockeye Fire saw little growth, yesterday. The size of the fire in the Willow area is now estimated at 7,555 acres, which is 43 acres more than yesterday’s estimate.


Last night, two lightning-caused fires in the Goose Creek area prompted a response by two air tankers, a helicopter, local ground crews, and a hotshot crew that was brought in from the Sockeye Fire. The crews worked overnight, and by the morning the fires, which are officially named “Montana Creek East” and “Montana Creek West” are considered contained. At this time, KTNA does not have confirmation that the fires are completely out.



Late this morning, KTNA learned of a new ignition between the North Fork of the Kashwitna River and

Sheep Creek at the base of the Talkeetna Mountains. The cause is listed as human on the official fire map, and the size is listed at one acre as of about 10:00 am. KTNA is continuing to seek further information on the Kashwitna fire.


Tonight, a community meeting will be held at the Houston Middle School, which is serving as a shelter for those evacuated from the Sockeye Fire area. That meeting will be at 7:00 p.m.


KTNA will continue to provide updates as information becomes available. You can listen at 88.9 FM or on ktna.org. Updates are also being posted to the KTNA Facebook page and on Twitter @KTNA.

Sockeye and Montana Creek fire updates

By Anne Hillman – APRN, Phillip Manning – KTNA

Montana Creek Fires:

Celeste Prescott, Public Information Officer at the command center, says that they are “under control.” Note that does not mean they are “out.” It means that the crews on the ground feel like they are not likely to flare up at this time.

Sockeye Fire:

The Sockeye Fire did not grow on Tuesday, and firefighters are reporting
“really good progress” on containing the northern portion. Low winds kept
the size steady, but people are still not allowed back to their homes.

“Wind is like the wheels of the fire,” explained Alaska Incident Management
Team Information Officer Sarah Saarloos. “You have to have wind to have
fire growth.”

The fire is pretty static with no aggressive runs or crowning and no
substantial acreage growth. They hope to have containment within a day or
so. It is currently zero percent contained.

About 300 firefighters are on the ground trying to stop the Sockeye Fire,
and they have air resources. Saarloos said the incident management should
have all of the resources they need by Thursday, unless crews are diverted
to fight other fires in the state.

Saarloos said tonight’s storms did not bring much rain, but they brought
lightning strikes to the area north of the Sockeye Fire. Firefighters
aggressively attacked them to prevent their growth.

The evacuation order remains in place because of high levels of heat in the
interior of the fire. They are trying to secure areas to allow people back
in. The Parks Highway is open to traffic, though vehicles must be led
through the area with a pilot car. There is not much smoke in the area at
this time.

Incident responders are concerned about the long-term weather forecast – no
rain in sight for the next five to ten days.

Burglary reported inside Sockeye Fire evacuation zone

The Alaska State Troopers are asking anyone with information about a burglary inside the Sockeye Fire evacuation zone to contact the Trooper dispatch.


According to the Troopers, a report was received of a burglary shortly after 5:30 pm on Monday. Troopers responded to the residence off of West Sunnyslope Way. Troopers say that the burglary appears to have taken place some time around 2:00 am on Monday. The investigation is ongoing.