Wildfire forces Alaska’s Denali National Park to temporarily close entrance

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A wildfire burning near the entrance of Denali National Park and Preserve forced the temporary closure Monday of one of Alaska’s most popular tourist destinations.

Cars were turned around at the park’s only entrance, tour buses were canceled and public facilities, including the visitor’s center, were closed at the park, which is about a five-hour drive north of Anchorage.

Trails were also closed Sunday, as were campgrounds for both existing and new reservations, the park service said in a statement. About 150 National Park Service employees housed in a facility near the fire were evacuated, park spokesperson Paul Ollig said in an email. An evacuation center was set up in the nearby town of Healy.

About 50 firefighters and aircraft dropping retardant and water contained the fire north of the park’s entrance, the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service said in a late Sunday update.

The fire burning in black spruce was reported Sunday about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) north of the entrance to the national park, home to Denali, the tallest mountain on the North American continent. The wildfire was estimated to be about half of a square mile (1.3 kilometers) in size.

The fire is burning on the west side of the Nenana River, which separates the fire from the national park.

Officials said there were no immediate threats to structures. The Denali Borough said on its website that the fire is burning northwest, farther into the park, and away from a tourist area on the highway, commonly referred to as Glitter Gulch, that includes hotels, gift shops and restaurants.

The weather could provide some help for firefighters, with cooler temperatures and a chance of isolated thunderstorms expected later Monday. A strong low-pressure system is expected to bring westerly winds on Tuesday, following by cooler and wetter weather, the fire service said.

As of Monday, 309 wildfires so far this year have burned nearly 672 square miles (1,740 square kilometers) in Alaska, the nation’s largest state. Seventeen of those fires started in the last day.

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