Progress reported in Tyonek fire fight

The wildfire in Tyonek spread to 350 acres as of Tuesday morning but fire crews made progress in building a fire line on the flank close to the village as the wind-driven fire has moved west away from the threatened subdivision, according to the the Alaska Wildland Fire Information.

Sarah Saarloos, information officer with the Mat-Su Division of Forestry, said as of Tuesday morning no structures have been lost and a new crew from Palmer has been sent back out to suppress the fire.

A total of 67 personnel were dispatched to handle the Tyonek fire Monday, which was first reported as a 5-acre wildfire north of the Tyonek Airport at about 2:45 p.m. Air attack from two tankers dropped eight loads of retardant and eight smokejumpers were deployed Monday, along with the Pioneer Peak and Midnight Sun Hotshot crews on the ground. Ten Nikiski firefighters and eight Beluga volunteer firefighters worked overnight on the ground to slow the fire down.

Most of the villagers had evacuated to their fishing camps and another 20 people have moved to the Timber Camp Lodge, said Debra Call, director of corporate administration for the Tyonek Native Corporation.

In the Kenai area ConocoPhillips has offered a helicopter to provide a food transfer to Tyonek for the firefighters, Call said. Villagers have also provided coffee, Gatorade and energy bars to the crews.

“When the wind picks up the embers transfer to other spots and really exacerbates the situation,” she said. “Now that the fire has moved more westward, the subdivision is not immediately affected.”

Nikiski Fire Chief James Baisden said 10 of his firefighters stayed overnight and five more have been dispatched to Tyonek and will concentrate their efforts in structure protection and will work close to the village spraying down hot spots, he said.

Nikiski’s fire protection area expands to Tyonek, a 150 resident village across the Cook Inlet. The Beluga Volunteer firefighters have a Nikiski fire engine and tanker and his crew trains with them weekly, he said. 

Saarloos said the Tyonek fire has been classified as a type-3 organizational wildfire. While the Funny River fire is larger in size and classified as a type-2, crews have to assess how long the fire will keep burning and if it poses a continuous risk.