Fire rages near Chena Hot Springs, but owner says he’s as prepared as he can be with years of work after big 2004 fire

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Bernie Karl, owner of the Chena Hot Springs resort, owns three firetrucks, bulldozers, loaders, backhoes, track rigs, lots of hoses, sprinklers and he even has water trucks.

He also is providing support and a conference room for about 120 state firefighters who are battling the Munson blaze that threatens the iconic resort on Chena Hot Springs Road, 61 miles northeast of Fairbanks.

Karl said he’s grateful for the firefighters and their hard work, and he also says years of preparation make him feel good about the chances Chena Hot Springs Resort has against the Munson Fire.

He cut a fire break all around his property after the 2004 blaze, which burned 6.4 million acres and sent burning embers onto the roofs of his buildings. After that fire, all but one of his buildings now have metal roofs.

“In my opinion we’re in no imminent danger because I’ve made all the proper decisions, all the preparations,” he said, having survived the worst wildfire in Alaska state history in 2004.

Karl said some well-meaning people came by to evacuate his horses, and others came by to evacuate his dogs, but he says his animals are safe right where they are.

The social media narrative that he sent the horse trailers away is half right — Karl said he wasn’t planning to evacuate them and was not ready to hand over his animals to others. Some of his employees have left, while others have stayed, and he still has guests at the resort.

From the Division of Forestry from the Monday 8 pm report:

The fire has reached Monument Creek a few miles east of the resort but had not crossed the creek at last report. The western edge of the fire has moved closer to Chena Hot Springs Road but remains 1-2 miles south of cabins and homes along the end of Chena Hot Springs Road from Mile 48 to 56. 

Firefighters have spent the last week assessing structures, clearing brush around them and installing pumps, hose and sprinklers around the resort and cabins and homes along the road to wet down the area around them to protect them if the fire could reach them.

Fire intensity on the 19,700-acre fire ramped up Monday afternoon at around 3 p.m. The increased activity prompted fire managers to issue a “Go” evacuation order for residents from Mile 48 Chena Hot Springs Road to Chena Hot Springs Resort at the end of the road at Mile 56.5, including guests and staff at the resort.

Alaska State Troopers responded and went door to door at each cabin along Chena Hot Springs Road between Mile 48 and Chena Hot Springs Resort at the end of the road to ensure those occupying the cabins are aware of the evacuation order. Troopers compiled a list of residents who are not evacuating so fire managers know how many people have not evacuated. As of 8 p.m., approximately 25-30 residents said they were not evacuating. Troopers also spoke to guests and staff at Chena Hot Springs Resort to make them aware of the situation.

Most of today’s fire growth has been on the east side of the fire, east of the hot springs but the fire continues to spread slowly in all directions. Firefighters cutting a fire break along a trail on the hillside behind the resort pulled back when fire intensity increased late Monday afternoon. Firefighters are now focused on protecting structures at the resort and along Chena Hot Springs Road in the event the fire advances that far. Pumps, hose and sprinklers have been set up around structures at the resort, in addition to cabins and homes along the end of Chena Hot Springs Road from mileposts 52 to 56.

Read: Chena Hot Springs evacuated as fire approaches resort, cabins

12 COMMENTS

  1. Has Luke Hopkins stopped by to check the PM 2.5? He may give Bernie a pass, but Luke has been known to turn in his friends and neighbors. 🤣

    • Luke Hopkins. The feckless mayor who tried to start a civil war amongst Fairbanksans over burning wood in their stoves at 40 below. Isn’t he the dad of Scott Kendall? The guy who is trying to recall Dunleavy?

      • Father-in-law. Kendall didn’t look very far into the gene pool, if his goal was to produce little Einstein’s.

  2. Leave the guy alone. If he has the manpower and resources to defend his own property, then let him. All this bull crap on facebook being spread is just that. I wouldn’t give up my animals to a bunch of strangers either, especially on the word of a bunch of employees he hires out from out of state and who likely know nothing other than how to change bed linens. They can go home anytime. no one is stopping them but they nor anyone have the right to tell him what’s best.

    • Agree with Don. Bernie does it his own way. And I’ll bet his livestock can cuss up them outa state employees better than Bernie can.

    • Right. Remember at the time of the Millers Reach fire when Martin Buser drove the old tanker fire truck through the garage door of the North Big Lake Fire Station. He and his neighbor couldn’t open the automatic door, so had to resort to desperate measures. Sometimes you just have to make things happen.

  3. If he has the resources and manpower, why isn’t he using it now to help fight the fire? I’m sure those water trucks, hoses and dozers would be a welcome addition to the taxpayers’ paid efforts to protect his property.

    • The state has a program in place that pays other institutions (fire departments, construction companies, and transportation companies) for the use of resources and personnel during a wildfire emergency.

      The use of those resources is solely at the discretion of the incident commander.

  4. Thats one problem about generations today they “baby” one another especially when you reach a certain age.

  5. BECAUSE it’s not his responsibility to take care of everyone else’s interest! Your response is the same mentality as those who say that one who has money should give it to those who don’t when those who don’t won’t get off the couch and earn their own money! He has the resources and man power because he worked to get them! Using your mentality, why don’t YOU get a shovel and go put the fire out Mr. Russell?!

  6. Way to stay, Bernie Karl!! You are a true leader. Thanks for saying NO to strangers taking your horses and dogs. Thanks for sharing your place with the first responders. Thanks for doing your part to protect yourself and others by cleaning up scrub and having equipment in place. Solidarity from So Oregon surrounded by fires. Your old pal, Becky Gay

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