FAIRBANKS, Alaska – Hundreds of people -- including about 200 workers at the state's largest gold mine -- fled a wildfire in Alaska's interior and headed toward Fairbanks (search).
The evacuations were ordered Wednesday afternoon as the winds picked up and the 225,000-acre blaze threatened cabins and clusters of homes.
Firefighters and state troopers went door-to-door and telephoned homes, telling residents to pack their belongings and head for Fairbanks, 30 miles to the south.
Fire officials said the fire was not a threat to Fairbanks, Alaska's second-largest city, with a population of 29,000. The big concern there is dense smoke, which is prompting people with respiratory problems to consider going farther south, said Brett Ricker, a Fairbanks-based spokeswoman with the state Division of Forestry (search).
"It looks prehistoric here, like a wasteland because it's so smoky," she said Thursday. "The sun is a neon orange ball in the sky, and the sky looks like mud."
About 200 workers at the Fort Knox gold mine north of Fairbanks were among those evacuated, but mine officials said Thursday they were resuming operations with a small crew of 15.
"It's a little better than we thought yesterday. The fires are a little bit farther north," said John Wild, general manager of mine owner Fairbanks Gold Mining Inc (search).
The American Red Cross set up a shelter for displaced residents at a Fairbanks high school. Animals including chickens, reindeer and nine pregnant pigs were taken to the state fairgrounds. Sled dogs were taken to a fenced baseball park and the homes of local mushers, said Jeanne Olson, manager of the borough animal control.
Chatanika Lodge owner Ron Franklin refused to leave, even though vintage clothes, guns and furs and mining memorabilia were being taken down from the walls in case the place burned.
"I'm sticking here," he said. "I built this place. This is 32 years of my life."
There were 61 active fires Thursday in Alaska, where 331 fires have burned more than 1.1 million acres so far this year.
In Reno, Nev., meanwhile, smoke from wildfires 10 miles to the west cloaked high-rise casinos Thursday.
The complex of four fires crept up to subdivisions near the California-Nevada line, but no evacuations were ordered. The largest of the fires consumed at least 850 acres of sagebrush and scrub pines.
In Arizona, firefighters reinforced lines to keep a 40,800-acre fire away from three mountain towns.
The lightning-caused fire was about four miles away from Payson, a community of about 14,000 about 70 miles northeast of Phoenix. The wildfire was spreading away from Payson and the smaller towns of Strawberry and Pine.
Seventeen buildings, including homes, barns and sheds, were considered threatened by the fire. All the people in the area had voluntarily left by Wednesday, said Mike Johnson, a spokesman for the crew fighting the fire.