Entrance to Denali National Park restricted as crews fight rapidly growing wildfire (2024)

Entrance to Denali National Park restricted as crews fight rapidly growing wildfire (1)

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A wildfire near the entrance to Denali National Park and Preserve grew rapidly Sunday, prompting campground and employee housing evacuations, officials said.

Denali National Park officials also said in a statement that there were suspending Monday operations at the entrance area, and the park will close to day-use visitors and personal vehicles until further notice.

The Riley Fire started in an area of black spruce near the Alaska Railroad, west across the Nenana River from Mile 239 of the Parks Highway, according to an update from the Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service. The fire, which grew from 20 acres in early afternoon to at least 350 acres by evening, wasn’t immediately threatening any structures, Denali National Park officials said in a statement.

On Sunday afternoon, BLM Alaska Fire Service said smokejumpers were reporting the fire as “100% active,” growing rapidly but staying clear of Glitter Gulch. Aircraft were dropping water and retardant on multiple passes and about 50 firefighters were working the edge of the fire, and together they continued to hold the fire north of the park’s entrance and west of the railroad, BLM Alaska Fire Service said late Sunday night.

Twenty-two smokejumpers were responding to the Riley Fire in addition to other resources, according to BLM Alaska Fire Service, and the Tri-Valley Volunteer Fire Department and the McKinley Village Volunteer Fire Department were among the agencies involved in the initial response.

A slight break from warm, dry weather is in the forecast: After temperatures pushed 70 degrees Sunday, fire officials expected temperatures in the mid-60s Monday with a chance of isolated afternoon thunderstorms, and westerly winds Tuesday followed by wetter, cooler conditions.

Entrance to Denali National Park restricted as crews fight rapidly growing wildfire (2)

Within the park, westbound tour and transit bus services were halted Sunday and officials closed nearby trails and public facilities, such as the Denali Visitor Center, park officials said. Day-use visitors who were west of the park entrance area were shuttled eastward, the park said.

Park officials said the closure of “all visitor facilities and park operations in Denali’s entrance area” will extend into Monday. All park trails will remain closed, the park said, and the only buses that will be operating are camper buses to pick up travelers heading east. Whether campground reservations for Monday would be honored will be determined after assessing fire conditions that day, the park said.

Denali National Park and partner employees were ordered to evacuate from some housing areas located near the entrance to the park, and were being sheltered in various Healy facilities, park officials said. Visitors have also been ordered to evacuate from the Riley Creek Campground.

“Park officials continue to work closely with the Denali Borough and other partners to ensure everyone is taken care of,” the park said in an update Sunday night.

Smoke from the fire could be seen Sunday from nearby Glitter Gulch, a popular destination for visitors seeking shops, restaurants and lodging.

Entrance to Denali National Park restricted as crews fight rapidly growing wildfire (3)

Nearly 130 Golden Valley Electric Association members lost power in the Glitter Gulch area, and the utility said on Facebook that the outage was likely caused by fire suppression efforts. Power will remain out until at least 8 a.m. Monday at the request of the fire incident commander, Golden Valley Electric said, “for the safety of those fighting the fire, and to ensure the continued fire suppression efforts do not impact GVEA’s electric equipment or cause dangerous situations to those working below the lines.”

With warm and dry conditions in some areas, other fires continued to burn and more flared up across the state.

Entrance to Denali National Park restricted as crews fight rapidly growing wildfire (4)
Entrance to Denali National Park restricted as crews fight rapidly growing wildfire (5)

In the Mat-Su, firefighters on Sunday continued battling the Montana Creek Fire, which started the day before. The fire — located about 16 miles south of Talkeetna and near Mile 95 of the Parks Highway — grew from a quarter-acre Saturday afternoon to 172 acres Sunday, according to an update from the Alaska Division of Forestry and Fire Protection. One outbuilding was lost to the fire, fire officials reported.

Federal, state and local municipalities responded to the fire with helicopters, scooper and retardant aircraft and hand crews, among other resources. Aided by cooler weather and rain, aerial assets were able to help cool the fire perimeter and slow its spread enough to enable fire crews “to construct direct handline and install hose lays where safe to do so,” fire officials said.

Officials asked residents along the Leroy Davie Road and Montana Creek Road corridors to be prepared to evacuate on short notice, although no evacuation orders were issued.

Smoke continued to affect travel along the Parks Highway on Sunday, and officials asked drivers to slow down and use caution between Mile 94 and 100 to allow personnel to safely respond to the fire.

Temporary flight restrictions were in place over both the Montana Creek Fire and the Riley Fire near Denali National Park.

Entrance to Denali National Park restricted as crews fight rapidly growing wildfire (6)

On the Kenai Peninsula, another fire reported Saturday afternoon continued burning Sunday about 20 miles south of Soldotna, according to the Alaska Division of Forestry and Fire Protection. The Tustumena Lake Fire, which was last reported at 55 acres, posed no threat to the public as of Sunday afternoon, fire officials said.

A helicopter crew shuttle brought firefighters to the area Saturday, and after smokejumpers assisted suppression efforts, the firefighters requested aerial support from retardant and water-scooping aircraft, fire officials said.

People within the Tustumena Lake Road corridor will continue to see smoke and aviation resources in the area, state fire officials said, noting that the Slackwater boat launch on the Kasilof River was closed for fire operations.

With hot, dry conditions in Interior Alaska on Sunday, several fires continued blazing across the region.

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The McDonald Fire remained active, covering more than 145,000 acres as an initial attack crew and several hotshot crews responded Sunday, BLM Alaska Fire Service said in an update. “Over the next few days, firefighters will continue scouting for opportunities to slow or hold the fire as the perimeter continues to grow,” BLM Alaska Fire Service said.

The weather was expected to cool off starting Sunday evening and help slow down the fire.

For further information about Alaska wildland fires, visit akfireinfo.com.

Entrance to Denali National Park restricted as crews fight rapidly growing wildfire (2024)

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