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Pitkas Point residents hopeful that rain and winds will keep their village safe

View of the East Fork Fire from the St. Mary's boat ramp on the Yukon River.
Jacob Welsh
View of the East Fork Fire from the St. Mary's boat ramp on the Yukon River.

The East Fork Fire is moving towards four lower Yukon River communities. The fire is burning six and a half miles from one of those communities, Pitkas Point. Many of the village’s 120 residents remain in town.

For 63-year-old Joseph Oney, he says he plans to stay in town unless the fire gets too close to Pitkas Point. He says the biggest problem has been the smoke. He says he’s never seen a wildfire in this part of the state.

“It’s been smokey the past few days,” Oney said. “The smoke’s been kind of strong for us Elders and the kids.”

The fire is the largest the region has ever seen.

Residents have been under a ready warning from federal officials since last Thursday. The warning urges residents to pack essential belongings, like prescriptions and important documents, and plan a way to leave the communities if evacuation is needed. No evacuation orders have yet been issued.

Oney says he still feels pretty safe, but he and his wife have prepared to leave with their grandkids if need be.

“We got prepared in case it spreads or in case the winds pick up,” Oney said. “We got some groceries in case they send us out. Got our camping gear ready and everything.”

Forty-seven-year-old Susie Pete says she’s also packed up much of her and her boyfriend’s stuff in case they need to evacuate by boat. She says another way she and her boyfriend have prepared has been by cutting down trees.

“A lot of the trees are close to the homes,” Pete said. “It had us kind of scared.”

Even though the community isn’t in immediate danger, Pete says some Pitkas Point residents have decided to leave out of caution.

“There’s quite a bit of the Elders that left and some that are handicapped that left,” Pete said. “I’m relatively happy that they left in case the fire comes really close, trying to rush them out, that’s going to be pretty hard.”

Another thing keeping residents optimistic is the wind. Twenty-two-year-old Jade Morrell says most of the smoke has been blowing east towards St. Mary’s.

“Most of the time. Either that or above Pitkas,” Morrell said. “It’s actually raining a little bit right now.”

As of Tuesday evening, the Bureau of Land Management estimated the East Fork Fire had grown to 129,197 acres.

Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media - Anchorage
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