Calm and clammy air Friday helped fire crews fight a huge wildfire to a standstill on Friday, but a second blaze sprang up and spread rapidly in another forest 100 miles south.
About 1,200 firefighters were dumping water and hacking down trees and scrub growth to encircle the 65-square-mile fire in the Matanuska Valley 50 miles from Anchorage, which destroyed 298 houses and buildings, one-third of those in the fire's path.State fire investigator Mark Barker said the fire, which blew up in every direction around the rural towns of Big Lake and Houston, acted "a lot like a tornado: One house is there and the other isn't."
Some of the 700 people evacuated as the fire spread saw the devastation for the first time on Thursday.
The ruins of one house were coated with red fire retardant dumped from a tanker plane. A burned-out Ford truck sat in the driveway, its bumpers melted onto the ground.
Others found their houses still standing but burglarized.
Becky Gowen said a window was pried open on her mother's house at Big Lake Heights, and thieves cleaned out the home, taking everything from the television and microwave oven to toilet paper and dish soap.
Police said only a handful of burglaries were reported. National Guard troops were helping state and local police patrol the area.
With the larger fire in check, about 100 fresh reinforcements from California were diverted to the new blaze, which spread to 2,500 acres in its first day Friday in the Kenai Peninsula along the Gulf of Alaska.