ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Dense smoke from a wildfire in Alaska's Interior kept firefighting aircraft grounded as hundreds of people fled with their pets and belongings.
"Smoke is heavy," Royce Chapman, a fire information volunteer, said Friday. "They can't get aircraft to be able to spot where it is going."
The fire about 30 miles northeast of Fairbanks (search) has tripled in size in recent days to an estimated 215,000 acres as wind and hot, dry conditions made a bad situation worse.
But the latest acreage figure was down by 10,000, based on revised mapping, and fire officials said an expected rise in humidity and drop in wind speeds could help firefighters.
Since Tuesday, a handful of subdivisions and scattered cabins have been evacuated and hundreds of people have sought safety in Fairbanks, which was not threatened but was overcome with dense smoke.
"It looks prehistoric here, like a wasteland because it's so smoky," said Brett Ricker, a spokeswoman with the state Division of Forestry whose office is in Fairbanks. "The sun is a neon orange ball in the sky, and the sky looks like mud."
The American Red Cross (search) set up a shelter for displaced residents at a high school in Fairbanks, Alaska's second-largest city.
Dogs and other animals — including 42 miniature horses, 12 reindeer and nine pregnant pigs — were taken to the state fairgrounds. Sled dogs were taken to a fenced baseball park and to the homes of local mushers, said Jeanne Olson, manager of the borough animal control.
"Some of the animals are a little confused," she said.
There were 62 active fires in Alaska on Friday, burning on more than 1 million acres. Most were in remote areas and simply being monitored. So far this year, 333 fires have burned nearly 1.7 million acres in Alaska.
In Arizona, meanwhile, firefighters reinforced lines to keep a 51,000-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.
In Nevada, smoke had died down Friday from a 1,200-acre wildfire 10 wiles west of Reno. The fire had crept up to subdivisions near the California-Nevada line, but no evacuations were ordered.