Alaska Wildfires Damage The State's Major Highways, Force Evacuations
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It's been an unusual summer in Alaska - really warm, really dry. And that long stretch of hot weather has set the stage for wildfires, including one sparked over the weekend that has burned dozens of buildings. Fires have damaged major highways, also forced evacuations. Nat Herz with Alaska Public Media has more.
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NAT HERZ, BYLINE: Outside an overnight shelter in the town of Wasilla, Renee Shinton is getting her huskies ready for bed. The McKinley wildfire is burning in a rural area about 50 miles north of Anchorage, and she's one of many dog mushers who have been forced to evacuate.
RENEE SHINTON: Not knowing where I'm going to live, not knowing where I'm going to go, if I'm going to have a house or anywhere to go. I can't go to a hotel. I can't. I have 11 dogs.
HERZ: The McKinley fire started Saturday when strong winds blew a tree into powerlines near the highway connecting Anchorage to Fairbanks. It grew quickly on Sunday, burning more than 50 buildings and shutting down the highway. The winds also worsened another wildfire that had been under control. That one has been burning for more than two months on the Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage.
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy is warning residents that they need to be cautious.
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MIKE DUNLEAVY: With camping season and hunting season coming soon upon us, we're asking everyone to be very, very careful with regard to campfires and cooking outdoors.
HERZ: Fire authorities in the lower 48 have dispatched 10 firefighting crews and a half-dozen aircraft to the state to help Alaska's emergency responders. South Central Alaska, where the fires are burning, has set numerous records this summer for heat and lack of rainfall. August is known as the wettest time of year in Anchorage. But this year, it's on track to be the driest late summer month ever recorded, says Fairbanks-based climatologist Rick Thoman.
RICK THOMAN: Basically every superlative you can think of applies in South Central this summer.
HERZ: Thoman says the high winds over the weekend were the trigger for the fires, but they couldn't have happened without the preceding months-long stretch of dry weather combined with an early snowmelt.
THOMAN: The first pieces were falling into place, you know, back in April when the snow went early. The weather set the stage for a trigger like this unusual wind event.
HERZ: The National Climate Assessment says Alaska is warming twice as fast as the global average, and that's expected to drive an increase in wildfires like the ones burning now. For NPR News, I'm Nat Herz in Anchorage.
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