ANCHORAGE -

State and local crews are responding to a small fire which flared up near Chena Hot Springs Road in Fairbanks Monday afternoon, in a major air and ground response prompted by its proximity to residences.

In a statement Monday night, the Alaska Division of Forestry says three fire crews -- one from White Mountain, with two more 20-person crews expected from Fairbanks and the Tanana Chiefs area -- are among the assets detailed to fight the Steel Creek fire, just south of Mile 4 of the road.

“Initial attack firefighters were quickly reinforced with smoke jumpers from Fort Wainwright and air support from three air tankers and two helicopters,” Forestry officials wrote. “Two CL-215 water scooping tankers, a retardant tanker based in Fairbanks, and two helicopters are helping with the response. A second retardant tanker based in Palmer is on its way to join the firefighting effort.”

Alaska Division of Forestry spokesperson Sam Harrel says responders may already have the upper hand against the fire, initially believed to be seven acres in size but now estimated to be about 15.

“It seems like they’re getting a hold of it,” Harrel said.

Harrel says crews are attributing the fire to natural causes.

“(It’s) lightning for this one -- we had a few storms roll through here this afternoon,” Harrel said.

The fire is burning in what Forestry crews call a critical management area -- the highest of four designations in a state fire management guide (PDF), which Harrel says in this case is a designation meant to protect the region's residents.

“It’s critical because it’s where people live,” Harrel said. “It’s got resources in it and things that we want to protect in a critical way.”

Forestry officials describe the trees in which the fire is currently burning as an area of black spruce.