Alaska wildfires burn 1 million acres

July 20, 2009 at 6:41 PM
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska, July 20 (UPI) -- Wildfires have burned more than 1 million acres in Alaska so far this year, making it one of the worst wildfire seasons in 50 years, officials say.

Data from state and national fire agencies indicate this year's wildfire toll puts 2009 among the 15 worst years for fires since the 1950s, the Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner reported Monday.

The latest battle lines were drawn over the weekend near the popular Chitina River recreation area in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, where the Chakina Fire was creating a smoke plume that could be seen for many miles, the newspaper said.

"We're estimating (the plume) is maybe 7,000-plus feet in elevation," said Kathleen Kavalok, a fire information officer with the National Park Service.

She said helicopters were being used to drop water onto the western part of the Chakina Fire while officials were mulling whether to use water-scooping air tankers as well.

The biggest blaze in Interior Alaska, the Daily News-Miner said, was the Minto Flats South Fire near Nenana, Alaska, about 60 miles west of Fairbanks. Other major wildfires were reported near McGrath, Fort Yukon and Circle.

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