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Crews From Lower 48 Race to Rampaging Wildfire Near Anchorage, Alaska

Rampaging Alaskan Wildfire Destroys Thousands of Acres 0:35

Homes were being evacuated and fire crews from the lower 48 states were racing to a wildfire north of Anchorage, Alaska, that grew to 6,500 acres in just hours, authorities said Monday.

The so-called Sockeye Fire, in the town of Willow, about 80 miles north of Anchorage, forced firefighters on the defensive as aircraft dropped water and fire retardant, the state Forestry Department said. The fire had yet to be contained.

Residents began fleeing from a voluntary evacuation area covering both sides of a 15-mile stretch of the George Parks Highway. As of Sunday evening, more than 200 people had signed into one evacuation center near Talkeetna. But the total number of evacuations wasn't immediately available.

About 25 "primary structures," including homes, have been destroyed by the fire, Sam Harrel, spokesman of BLM Alaska Fire Services, said Monday.

The fire calmed a bit overnight, where winds dropped and humidity increased, Harrel said. But winds were expected to kick up again Monday afternoon. "It will be sunny, dry and hot," he said. "Much of the state is ripe for fire."

The Sockeye Fire was first reported Sunday at 1:15 p.m. (5:15 p.m. ET) as covering 2 acres and quickly grew. By 3 p.m. it had reached 80 acres, and by 6 p.m. it covered 1,077 acres along the western shore of Kashwitna Lake, the Forestry Division said. By 10:30 p.m., the fire had grown to 4,183 acres. Two hours later, it was estimated at 6,500 acres.

The cause of the fire — which was quickly classified as a Type 1 incident, the most complex fire to deal with — remained unknown, the agency said. It was moving south late Sunday night, officials said.

There are 1,700 homes in the evacuation zone.

One firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion, according to an update from officials in Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

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The entire Matanuska-Susitna Borough Fire Department was at the scene, along with crews and helicopters from Anchorage, Fairbanks, Kenai, White Mountain, Alaska Fire Services and the Forestry Division. They totaled about 200, with another 100, and at least 10 hotshot crews from other states, on their way, officials said. Another three Alaska Air National Guard Blackhawk helicopters to help with bucket work on the fire.

"It's moving pretty fast, and we're throwing pretty much everything we have at it," Tim Mowry, a spokesman for the Forestry Division, told NBC station KTUU of Anchorage.

Patty Sullivan a spokeswoman for Matanuska-Susitna Borough, said the fire quickly jumped Sockeye Avenue and then the Parks Highway, which is also known as Interstate A-4.

Sullivan urged people to steer clear of Willow, noting that's it's a major center for dog mushing, and many dogs and their gear must be evacuated along with their owners.