Alaska wildfires: Unusually dry weather and high winds feed rare May wildfire

A massive wildfire in Alaska's Kenai Peninsula continues to explode in size, leading to mandatory evacuations of 1,000 structures. 

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    Central Emergency Services firefighter Dan Jensen maneuvers a hose into position to fight a portion of a wildfire Sunday, May 25, 2014, in the Funny River community of Soldotna, Alaska.
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A massive, wind-whipped wildfire in Alaska's Kenai Peninsula is still growing after evacuation orders were issued, but fire managers are hoping rains forecast for Tuesday will help crews gain a handle on the blaze.

The Funny River Fire, named after a nearby road, covered nearly 248 square miles as of Monday morning and was 30 percent contained. It is burning in the 1.9 million acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Fire management team spokesman Willie Begay says no injuries or structure damage has been reported.

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On Sunday, authorities ordered the evacuation of 1,000 homes and other structures in the sparsely populated area 60 miles south of Anchorage. Alaska State Troopers went door to door to evacuate the area, where most structures are second homes or retirees' summer residences.

Begay says the weather forecast for the area calls for rain Tuesday and Wednesday.

Wildfires in Alaska's remote areas are not unusual during the summer months, with an average of a million acres burned each fire season, said Michelle Weston, spokeswoman with Management Team, which includes the state Division of Forestry and federal and local officials.

But fires this large, this early in the season? That's unusual, she said.

The state is experiencing unusually dry conditions because of unseasonably warm spring temperatures. High wind is also a challenge for crews.

Crews were attacking the fire by air, with two Alaska Air National Guard helicopters and five other helicopters involved, she said.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1941 as the Kenai National Moose Range and was aimed at moose protection. Wildlife viewing, fishing, camping and hiking attract visitors from around the world.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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