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Wildfires close highway in Alaska

Wildfires in Alaska kept a 90-mile stretch of highway closed Friday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Wildfires kept 90 miles of highway closed Friday, stranding about 150 people and dozens of RVs in this tiny mining community.

About half the people were allowed to leave under escort before dawn, and officials hoped to lead out another convoy early Saturday, when flames might be diminished by cooler temperatures and higher humidity.

The community was not believed to be in danger, but it has no land phone lines, so details were limited to occasional radio transmissions from fire crews, said Craig McCaa, a fire information officer in Tok.

Three fires — fueled by light winds and hot, dry air — prompted the closure of the Taylor Highway on Thursday on both sides of Chicken, a hamlet near the Canadian border with a permanent population of 21. Seasonal miners and travelers were also trapped there, fire officials said.

About 40 vehicles were led in a convoy early Friday to Tok, about 70 miles to the southwest, state fire information officer Kevin Koechlein said.

Tourists cancel
A convoy carrying fuel, food and water was headed back to Chicken and possibly another 90 miles up the highway to Eagle, a town of 126 people, he said.

Marlys House, who owns a small bed and breakfast in Eagle, said scheduled guests were calling to cancel. Instead she was letting her five rooms out to fire support crews.

The biggest of the fires, covering 33,000 acres, was about a mile south of the community but was not kicking up, McCaa said. That blaze was sparked June 15 by two lightning strikes.

A second fire to the south had burned at least 16,000 acres. The size of the third blaze, about six miles east of Chicken, was unknown.