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The Latest: Officials review cause of Parks Highway wildfire

August 20, 2019

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Latest on Alaska wildfires (all times local):

1 p.m.

Alaska wildfire officials are reviewing their initial assessment of the cause of a weekend fire that burned at least 50 structures north of Anchorage.

Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry says the cause of the fire along both sides of the Parks Highway is “under investigation.”

The fire began Saturday. Fire officials at first said it was believed to have been caused by high wind toppling a tree onto a powerline.

Strong winds with gusts to 35 mph (56 kph) pushed the fire along the Parks Highway corridor for about 7 miles (11.3 kilometers).

Firefighters are also targeting a fire that began Saturday near the Nancy Lake Recreation Area. Mowry says that fire is suspected to be human-caused because no lightning strikes were detected.

The exact cause is not known. The fire has burned nearly 3 square miles (7.7 sq. kilometers).

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12:30 p.m.

Firefighters from western states are pouring into Alaska to help suppress wildfires that displaced residents along the main highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Alaska Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry says 100 firefighters in five crews arrived Monday from California.

Another 300 firefighters were scheduled to arrive Tuesday through Thursday.

Two of the fires they will target are north of Anchorage along the Parks Highway and near the Nancy Lake Recreation Area.

The Parks Highway fire ignited Saturday and strong wind that lasted through Sunday spread the fire on both sides of the highway, burning more than 50 structures.

Mowry says officials are continuing to assess how many of the burned buildings are homes and how many people have been displaced.

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9:25 a.m.

Smoke from wildfires burning both north and south of Anchorage have enveloped Alaska’s largest city in hazy conditions and prompted health warnings about the poor air.

One wildfire about 70 miles (113 kilometers) north of Anchorage has compelled evacuations and burned about 50 structures. Officials haven’t said how many of those were homes. High winds invigorated the other wildfire that began June 5 about 60 miles (97 kilometers) south of Anchorage.

The haze has left Anchorage smelling like a campfire and obscured the Chugach Mountains, which normally provide a stunning backdrop to the cityscape. Some pedestrians wore either bandanas or masks to protect their lungs.

Tuesday was the first day of school in Anchorage, and principals and coaches had the discretion of holding recesses or practices inside because of the conditions.

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8:01 a.m.

An evacuation order remains in effect for neighborhoods affected by a wildfire on both sides of the Parks Highway north of Willow.

The state Division of Forestry says a dozen engines from Fairbanks and two crews from the Lower 48 will be arriving to boost to the firefighting effort.

The fire began Saturday near Milepost 91 of the Parks Highway when a tree blew onto a powerline, which sparked and ignited dry vegetation.

High wind gusting to 35 mph (56 kph) pushed the fire along the Parks Highway corridor for about 7 miles (11.3 kilometers).

The Division of Forestry estimates that about 50 structures burned.

The highway is open but motorists should expect delays as pilot cars lead vehicles between Mileposts 71 and 99.

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An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the number of structures that had burned in the 12:30 p.m. item.

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