No structures damaged, animals safe at Chena Hot Springs Resort as Munson Creek Fire slows

As of Tuesday afternoon no structures had been damaged or destroyed due to fire and both guests and employees of the resort told KTVF that they felt safe and free to leave at any point.
Published: Jul. 6, 2021 at 6:10 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - As of Tuesday morning no structures have been lost at the Chena Hot Springs Resort or along Chena Hot Springs Road. The Munson Creek Fire is moving at a slow and manageable speed, approximately 100 yards from structures on resort property. Fire personnel are also on hand to defend structures if the fire continues to move towards resort boundaries.

A level 3 “Go” evacuation order, issued by the Fairbanks North Star Borough Department of Emergency Operations, remains in place from Mile 48 to the end of the road at Chena Hot Springs Resort. But fire personnel are crediting light rain showers overnight with raising the humidity and slowing the spread of the fire, after growing to over 27,000 acres on Monday.

Firefighters, including Munson Creek Fire Information Officer Sam Harrel, are concentrating on structure protection at the resort Tuesday. In addition, crews will continue to lay fire hose and install and test sprinklers on cabins between 48 Mile and 53 Mile. Approximately 150 firefighters are positioned to protect structures, cabins and homes in the area.

Crews are also taking direct action on the fire on the hillside behind Chena Hot Springs to slow its progress. Crews are constructing a control line from an aurorium on the hillside behind the resort to connect in to a backburn conducted east of the hot springs Monday night. The Pioneer Peak Hotshot Crew from Palmer has arrived at the fire and will be plugged in to assist with suppression and structure protection.

“Right now it’s looking pretty good. We’re getting a sprinkle right now falling on us which is really helping. It’s bringing the RH up and really calming down the fire behavior,” said Sam Harrel, Fire Information Officer. “We see a little bit on the slopes here right above the hot springs, but it’s moving slow and it’s cleaning up the understory. And if we’re going to have fire on the hillside here, that’s the best fire to have. As opposed to an up and running fire and that would be much more of a threat and really would have changed the game plan both for what Bernie [Karl] had in play and for what we had in play.”

Firefighters wet down buildings around the resort and cabins closest to the fire with pumps, hoses and sprinklers that have been set up during the past week in anticipation of the fire reaching the resort. Pilot cars escorted vehicles toward and away from the resort last night to minimize traffic conflicts with fire vehicles.

State Troopers checked all cabins from 48 Mile to the resort to make sure inhabitants were aware of the evacuation order and to document how many people planned to remain overnight. The western edge of the fire has moved closer to Chena Hot Springs Road but remains about 1 mile south of cabins and homes along the end of Chena Hot Springs Road from Mile 48 to 56.

“We’ve got several crews in place. We have a type one hotshot arriving on the fire this afternoon, and it’s looking real good here around the resort, said Harrel. “Along the [Chena] Hot Springs Road it’s looking real good. Fire is same as it’s doing here, it’s slowly coming over the ridge down towards the roadway corridor. But we have crews in there setting up structural protection on the cabins that are along the river and the roadway.”

According to the BLM Alaska Fire Service, smoke conditions are worsening Tuesday evening, however, and helicopters may have to set down due to poor visibility.

Approximately 30 cabin residents opted to stay in the area. Troopers also spoke to guests and staff at Chena Hot Springs Resort to make them aware of the situation.

The resort credits work they had done after a severe fire in 2004, with their confidence in staying at the resort as opposed to evacuating.

“Thankful to the fire service and to my own folks and to our own thinking because in 2004, fire completely surrounded us. And we put, we brushed a fire lane completely around the resort ten miles,” said Bernie Karl, President of Chena Holdings. “And our horses were here in 2004, it was one thousand times worse in 2004, one thousand times worse. And those are some of the same horses, as you can see they’re in a good paddock, they have lots of food, and they’re very healthy.”

Bernie Karl went on to say that his dogs are also safe at the resort, “People come in here, they want to move my horses, they want to move my dogs, but they forgot to ask me. And no, we’re not moving any animals, they’re safer here.”

“If there had of been need of an evacuation, the building caught on fire - we got all the transportation here,” said Karl. “If we move people we would evacuate it. But we didn’t need to, we didn’t need to in 2004 either when it was a thousand times worse.”

Dog kennels at the Chena Hot Springs Resort on Tuesday July 6, 2021.
Dog kennels at the Chena Hot Springs Resort on Tuesday July 6, 2021.

Resort employees and guests told a KTVF reporter that they feel safe and free to leave at any point. Bernie Karl attributes the removal of six employees this past Sunday, to their zero tolerance drug policy at the resort.

“The employees, any employees that wanted to leave they can leave. They can do anything they want, we did fire six employees for drugs, we have a zero drug policy, fired them on Sunday,” said Karl. “It just happened to be during this fire situation. The other employees that left, if they want to come back they’re more than welcome to come back. They’re going to have a drug test before they come back but they’re welcome to, absolutely they are welcome to.”

The Fairbanks Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), is stationed at the Pleasant Valley Store near 24 Mile Chena Hot Springs Road, and they are there to provide information to displaced evacuees about shelter. Members from CERT and Volunteers in Policing are also currently patrolling Chena Hot Springs Road between Mile 48 and Chena Hot Springs Resort from midnight to 6:00 a.m. to provide security for vacant cabins and homes.

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