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Dry, Hot Conditions Fuel Rampaging Wildfire Near Anchorage, Alaska

Fire Crews Race to Contain Alaska Wildfire 0:22

Mother Nature is not helping Alaska.

Hot, dry, windy conditions made firefighters' job incredibly difficult as they battled the Sockeye Fire, which exploded like a bomb to cover more than 6,500 acres less than a day after it started near Willow, Alaska, authorities said Monday.

The fire, which is only about 80 miles north of Anchorage, the state's largest city, remained at 0 percent containment Monday afternoon. The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center reported that as many as 45 structures, many of them primary or secondary homes, had already been destroyed.

Rampaging Alaskan Wildfire Destroys Thousands of Acres 0:35

"It's a very somber mood up there," Vern Halter, who represents Willow on the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly and visited the scene Sunday, told NBC station KTUU of Anchorage.

"Right when it jumped the highway, I can honestly say I was scared, because there were flames on both sides and in the ditches," Halter said.

The incident commander, Tom Kurth, wildland fire manager for the state Forestry Division, said Monday that humidity below 30 percent, with temperatures pushing 90 and high winds, had created the perfect conditions for an uncontrollable fire.

"It's very intimidating when that wind starts blowing and that column leans over and a lot of what's out there begins to become obscured by that heavy smoke," Kurth said.

Halter told KTUU that "weather is going to control it."

Wildfire Rages Alongside Highway in Alaska 0:27

"It just gets down to guerrilla warfare at some point in time, and the firefighters are right down in there," he said.

Firefighters were quickly placed on the defensive Sunday as aircraft continually dropped water and fire retardant on the blaze, the state Forestry Department said. One firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion, according to an update from officials in Matanuska-Susitna Borough, or the Mat-Su.

Gov. Bill Walker declared Mat-Su Borough a disaster area, saying at a news conference Monday that "there's more help on the way."

"It's really quite something to see the agencies working together," said Walker, who spoke immediately after surveying the scene by helicopter.

"I'm very pleased that there has been no loss of life," he said, adding: "There's much to be thankful for."

Residents began fleeing Sunday 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.

About 1,700 homes are in the evacuation zone, but the total number of evacuations wasn't immediately available.

The fire was first reported at 1:15 p.m. (5:15 p.m. ET) Sunday as covering just 2 acres, but it 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. It remained at that size through Monday afternoon and was moving south.

Sam Harrel, a spokesman for the Alaska Fire Service, told NBC News the fire's growth stalled overnight because of increased humidity, cooler temperatures and lower winds.

But hot, dry conditions resumed Monday — the forecast high for Willow was 89 — "and we expect winds to kick up again [later] this afternoon," Harrel said.

In fact, unusually low snowpack and hotter-than-usual spring temperatures were creating fire hazards over much of the state, two-thirds of which was under red-flag warnings and watches, with burning bans imposed in Anchorage and other larger communities.

"Much of the state is ripe for fire," Harrel said.

IMAGE: Alaska red-flag fire advisories
About two-thirds of Alaska is red-flag fire warnings or watches as unusually hot and dry conditions prevail. NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE

Meanwhile, the cause of the Willow Fire remained unknown, authorities said, stressing that an investigation for now was taking a back seat to stopping the fire.

Fire crews and helicopters from across the state and British Columbia were at the scene, along with federal reinforcements and at least 10 hotshot crews that had been requested from other states, the Forestry Division said.

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

Mary Fugate of Willow, who's seven months pregnant, fled the fire with her three children and the family's goats, horses and pets.

"You're just numb," Fugate told KTUU. "You're just not thinking ... I didn't want to leave. I don't want my house to burn, but there was really nothing I could do."

Fugate said the last she'd heard from neighbors was that her house was still standing — but, just across the street, many of her neighbors' homes had burned down.