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Smokejumpers, Air Tankers Slow Wildfire Near Top of the World Highway border crossing


Smokejumpers have fought a 25-acre wildfire near the Alaska-Canada border to a standstill after being called in Thursday because it appeared to be headed straight toward a remote border-crossing station.“It looks like they pretty much stopped this thing in its tracks,” says Alaska Forestry Division spokesman Tim Mowry.

Mowry says the state agency and its federal partner, the Alaska Fire Service, both sent resources to the area quickly, because officials at the Poker Creek-Little Gold Creek Border Crossing who reported the fire around 5:30 p.m. Thursday said it seemed to be burning hot and fast and kicking up a big smoke cloud.

“I think the border folks got a little excited when they saw these smoke columns not terribly far away from the border station,” he said. “And so there was definitely a sense of urgency.”

The jointly operated border crossing is located along the Top of the World Highway about halfway between Tok and Dawson City, in the Yukon.

“They got on the fire pretty quickly,” he said. “They had a couple of air tankers that came in and made three retardant drops, I believe, to try and box this thing in. So they’re not reporting any visible smoke this morning, near the border station.”

Mowry says multiple lightning strikes were detected in about seven miles southwest of the border station, five miles south of the Top of the World Highway –  which is why the fire is called the Top of the World Fire. He says there are many structures throughout the heavily wooded area, but he says because of the quick response and with the help of a little rain this morning, none of the structures were damaged.

Credit Tim Whitesell/Alaska Division of Forestry
Forestry-contracted air tankers on Thursday dropped retardant at the head of the Top of the World Fire, then dumped three more loads to slow its spread.

“It was a high-priority fire,” he said. “I mean, based on the report that we received that is it was coming toward the border station, it was definitely a high priority at that point. That’s why we sent two loads of smokejumpers and brought in both tankers.”

Mowry says hot, dry weather around the eastern Interior along with lightning strikes have elevated the region’s risk of  wildfire. But he says cooler weather that’s forecast through the weekend will diminish the fire danger and help firefighters get the Top of the World fire under control within a few days.

“The weather this fire season has really been up and down,” he said. “You don’t know what you’re going to get. And while we haven’t had any real hot weather until just recently, we haven’t had a huge amount of precipitation.”

For that reason, Mowry says it won’t take long for the moisture left by rain that falls through the weekend to dry up. He says Forestry and Alaska Fire Service officials are asking folks who’ll be out and about this solstice weekend, fishing or camping or whatever, to be care careful with fire – remember to snuff out cigarettes, never leave any fire unattended and completely extinguish them before leaving.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.