JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Firefighters were able to contain an Alaska wildfire that was initially fought by campers who first spotted the blaze, the U.S. Forest Service said.
Several groups were camping at Boy Scout Beach in Juneau when some of them saw the fire Saturday morning, KTOO-FM reported.
“We just noticed some smoke, and it was kind of high up in the grass,” said Blaine Scharen, who was camping with his wife and extended family.
The fire appeared to be growing out of control when Scharen and his brother-in-law went to the next campsite to check the situation.
“And at that point there was a ring of fire maybe 30 feet across,” Scharen said.
They warned their children to keep clear, and Scharen’s wife joined their efforts to contain the fire with buckets of water and other items. The group also began digging a trench with their hands to prevent the fire from spreading.
“Then it started to get a bit bigger,” Scharen said. “And then some of the trees, the spruce trees started lighting up. So we’re smacking spruce trees, using the buckets to try and pat stuff out. Everybody’s feet and boots were half-melted, and buckets and tubs were all melted.”
Capital City Fire/Rescue, the emergency service for the City and Borough of Juneau, began receiving calls about the brush fire around 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
The reports were forwarded to the federal forest service, which handles all of the wild land firefighting in the area.
Firefighters responded to the remote beach with a helicopter and a boat, but they took more than an hour to arrive, said Rob Berney, a Juneau-area fire supervisor for the forest service.
The agency had to ground the helicopter for a time because of a drone flying in the area, Berney said.
“That’s the last thing a pilot needs when he’s up there trying to do the job. Worrying about a drone and where that’s at,” Berney said.
Berney could not immediately pinpoint an exact cause of the fire. But he said it was undoubtedly caused by people in the area.
No one was injured, although Scharen said hair was singed off his legs.
“Everybody kind of rallied together,” Scharen said. “Definitely kept it from being a lot worse than it would have been if nobody was out there.”