Update: Update from City of Palmer:
At 10 pm, residents may return to the Cedar Hills Subdivision without the need to show id. Please use care when driving as the firefighters will have their equipment in the area and will monitor the area throughout the night.
Mat-Su Borough officials have called for the Cedar Hills subdivision and other areas to be evacuated after several homes caught fire in high winds Thursday, temporarily closing the Glenn Highway in the area. One firefighter has been reported injured fighting the fires.
Palmer Mayor DeLena Johnson says the Glenn Highway has been reopened after a crash on the highway this afternoon that started the Cedar Hills fire. According to Alaska State Troopers spokesperson Megan Peters, the wreck involved a truck hauling a trailer.
The City of Palmer's Facebook page says the trailer involved apparently flipped at the intersection of the Glenn and Palmer Fishhook Road at 1:53 p.m. Thursday, generating sparks that ignited the fire.
Mat-Su Borough spokesperson Patty Sullivan says about 150 to 200 acres in Cedar Hills have burned, with three to four homes in the subdivision and another eight north of Wickersham Road all threatened. An evacuation center has been set up at the Palmer Senior Center for those displaced from the subdivision, which contains 15 homes.
"No homes (in the subdivision) have burned," Sullivan wrote in an update Thursday night. "Reportedly outbuildings and vehicles have caught fire. Later residences along the roads of Beylund Loop, off Scott Road, and Josh Road off of Felton Street had been evacuated."
Access to Cedar Hills has been blocked at Pioneer Parkway, as well as Wickersham Road. No roads into the Valley Trails subdivision have yet been restricted. Sullivan says firefighters may be able to bring the Cedar Hills blaze under control by 8 p.m., but only residents with identification will be allowed into the affected areas.
At least six fire departments have responded, with the Palmer, Butte and Mat-Su Central Volunteer fire departments already on scene and additional equipment arriving from Anchorage, Chugiak and Chickaloon.
Borough fire officials extended evacuations shortly after 4 p.m. Thursday to the Bayland Loop, Joshua Road and Pioneer Parkway areas, all near the Valley Trails subdivision.
The Mat-Su Borough School District's Facebook page says Palmer Junior Middle School will also serve as a shelter, with PJMS, Palmer High School, Sherrod Elementary School and Swanson Elementary School all affected by the evacuations.
Dennis Brodigan, director of emergency services at the Mat-Su Borough’s Department of Emergency Services, says conditions in the Valley have been fanning flames, with winds consistently blowing at 35 mph and gusts reaching 50 mph.
The first of the Thursday fires was reported at 11:44 a.m., as a fully involved home on the 6200 block of East Sand Point Drive, near Wasilla Fishhook Road. Numerous units from the Palmer and Central Mat-Su fire departments, as well as West Lakes Fire and Rescue, responded to the call, encountering a pall of heavy black smoke as they arrived.
“When they got to the scene, they confirmed that the house was fully engulfed and that there was an all-clear with everyone out of the building,” Brodigan said.
The fire spread from the home to two nearby vehicles as well as adjacent wildlands, but was subsequently brought under control at 1:38 p.m.
Units from West Lakes and the City of Houston responded to the second house fire, in Big Lake near the intersection of West Drowsy and Lazy Lake drives, at about 12:40 p.m. As of 2 p.m. Brodigan said crews hadn’t yet brought the Big Lake blaze under control.
Palmer and Butte Fire Department units responded to a grass fire sparked when a power line went down in high winds at 12:52 p.m., on East Drift Lane at the South Glenn Highway near the Alaska State Fairgrounds. Brodigan said the call was “quick and dirty,” with crews bringing the fire under control by 1:16 p.m., but noted that power had been shut off in the area and disruptions may persist Thursday afternoon.
Another fire, called in at 1:53 p.m., was reported near the intersection of Kobbernburg Road and the Glenn Highway, with two vehicles and patches of brush in the area.
Brodigan confirmed that a firefighter was injured Thursday, although he didn't immediately know the location of the fire in which the injury occurred or the firefighter's condition and jurisdiction.
In other wind-related news from the Valley, the Mat-Su Borough’s Planning Division renewed a standing air quality advisory effective from 3 p.m. Thursday until winds and smoke subsides, recommending that children, the elderly and people with heart or lung disease stay indoors and reduce physical activity. Members of the general population were encouraged to avoid “vigorous outdoor activity.”
Updates on Thursday's fires are available from a special hotline at 907-761-1315; only one person is answering the phone, however, and calls may be routed to an answering machine during periods of high call volume.
More information on the advisory is available from the Air Quality Alert System, at 352-3878.
Editor's note: Information on a phone hotline provided by the Mat-Su Borough has been updated; updates are also being provided online on the borough's Facebook page and the City of Palmer's Facebook page.
Contact Chris Klint, Kortnie Horazdovsky and Adam Pinsker