UPDATE: More than 50 structures lost; McKinley fire jumps Parks Highway, One lane open with help from pilot car

Photo courtesy Robert Sheldon
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — Update: 8:25 am
Alaska State Troopers say one lane of the Parks Highway is back open.

Alaska Department of Transportation says traffic is moving slowly between milepost 71 to milepost 99 with the help of a pilot car.

Authorities say drivers should expect significant delays and if possible they should avoid the area.

For the latest traffic information, visit 511.alaska.gov.

4:39 a.m.
Fire crews battling the McKinley fire faced some of the worst firefighting conditions for the second day in a row Sunday.

The Division of Forestry reports more than 50 structures have already been lost. The fire jumped the Parks Highway late Sunday afternoon from the east to the west side near mile 88.

Currently, all homes in the Hidden Hills and Caswell Lakes area are under an evacuation notice.

Displaced residents on the south side of the road closure are being asked to shelter at the Menard Sports Complex. Residents on the north side of the closure are being asked to shelter at the Upper Susitna Senior Center.

DOF says additional evacuations are likely, and residents near the evacuation area should follow updates on social media and prepare to leave the area.

Traffic is being stopped at MP 70.

1:04 p.m.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough delivered a briefing on Mat-Su Wildfires Sunday afternoon.

Watch the full briefing here:

McKinley Fire

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough is warning that fire conditions are expected to worsen Sunday, and travelers are being asked to avoid mileposts 79 through 99 of the Parks Highway while crews work to contain the McKinley Fire.

The size of the fire remained at 150 acres according to the latest Alaska Interagency Coordination Center report.

An evacuation order remains in effect for areas east of the Parks Highway between MP 88 and MP 93.

Map of the evacuation area for McKinley Fire on Aug. 17, 2019, from Alaska Division of Forestry

The Alaska Division of Forestry says additional crews have arrived to help contain the spread of the McKinley and Deshka Landing fires as of 11:00 a.m. Sunday.

70 personnel are working the McKinley Fire, with additional support from the Midnight Sun Interagency Hotshot Crew expected.

MSB says no structures have been lost as of this morning.

Deshka Landing Fire

Division of Forestry says the Deshka Landing fire is currently burning near Milepost 68 of the Parks Highway, about four miles west of the highway, and has grown to between 600 and 1,000 acres and moving southeast as of Sunday morning.

The Deshka Fire is still actively burning according to MSB, and has closed Nancy Lake Parkway at mile 2.2 to prevent traffic from inhibiting firefighting crews.

Division of Forestry crews have reportedly held the fire near Rolly Creek, around 1/2 mile from the South Rolly campground.

Winds are expected to increase in the area, and anyone at Red Shirt Lake and surrounding areas should evacuate the area.

DOF says individuals should be able to hike out from Red Shirt Lake on the Red SHirt Lake trail to reach cars parked at the trailhead. Vehicles will be able to exit the barricades at mile 2.2

The Lynx Lake gate at mile 4 of Lynx Lake Road will also be unlocked for people to leave the Lynx Lake and Butterfly Lake areas.

Temporary Flight restrictions are in place for both the McKinley and Deshka Landing fires.

Swan Lake Fire

UPDATE: 10:52 p.m.

Flames from an interior area of the Sterling fire were carried through previously burned dry fuels to the sterling highway near mile 70, crossing the highway Sunday afternoon.

Division of Forestry officials are asking the public to avoid the area as the Sterling remains closed to traffic.

The fire did cross the Upper Kenai River near the Kenai River Trail.

A level 1 "READY" evacuation alert for Cooper Landing is in place, meaning residents in the area should make preparations to leave the area.

The Sterling neighborhoods east of Feuding Lane and east of Adkins Road have been placed in a level 1 "READY" status as well.

Original Story:

Further south, extremely dry conditions and high winds are pushing the Swan Lake Fire across the Sterling Highway around milepost 60, creating significant traffic delays between mileposts 48 and 75, according to Alaska State Troopers. Division of Forestry officials are asking the public to avoid the area.

The fire has moved across Skilak Lake Road, but has not crossed the Kenai River according to the division of Forestry.

Due to fire activity and downed power lines, the Sterling Highway will not be open for traffic.

Skilak Lake Road is closed from Upper Skilak Lake Road to the east entrance of Skilak Lake Road as fire approaches the roadway and limits visibility.

The Division of Forestry says as of now, there is no fire movement on the western edge of the fire closest to Sterling. Officials say the fire activity is on the eastern edge of the Swan Lake fire perimeter, closer to Cooper Landing.

Winds are expected to push smoke into Cooper Landing and the Kenai River corridor.

According to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, the Swan Lake Fire grew substantially overnight Saturday, with strong winds preventing helicopters and air tankers from working the fires.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough has issued a Level 1 (READY) evacuation alert for Cooper Landing, meaning residents in the area should make preparations to leave the area.

Air quality is also reported to be hazardous in Cooper Landing, and is not expected to improve through the weekend, according to KPB.

Regular updates are available at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Virtual Joint Information Center or by calling the Borough Call Center at 907-262-INFO (4636).

This is a developing story.

Swan Lake Fire from the Sterling Highway, Saturday, Aug. 17 (From Alaska Interagency Coordination Center)