Avalanche delays holiday tradition in Alaska’s largest city

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – A tradition of vacationing in Alaska’s largest city for over 60 years got off to a bad start this year.

A 91-meter-wide, brightly lit star above Anchorage in the Chugach Mountains is traditionally lit the day after Thanksgiving. However, when military teams arrived on Friday to light the star, only half of the roughly 350 light bulbs were working.

The airmen worked for three days in extreme conditions and cold temperatures before finding the cause of the problem on Tuesday.

A small avalanche rained rocks and snow on the star, which is located about 1,219 meters above the level of Mount Gordon Lyon, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson spokeswoman told The Associated Press, Erin Eaton.

Broken bulbs had to be replaced and connections repaired, Eaton said.

“They made the necessary repairs, and now it’s operational,” she said. The star was supposed to be lit Tuesday night.

Airmen from the 773 Civil Engineer Squadron had to gear up for safety to make repairs in snowfall and steep terrain, ranging from 25 to 45 degrees, she said.

The star is located near a former US Army missile facility in the Chugach Range on the eastern outskirts of the city. To reach the star, crews must drive a truck on a highway, unload tracked vehicles on a side road and travel several more miles before reaching the star, Eaton said.

“Even in decent road conditions it can be a bit hairy,” Eaton told The Anchorage Daily News.

Until the avalanche damage was discovered, the cause of the star’s failure was a mystery.

Last summer, crews repaired damage from the previous winter and replaced all light bulbs, she said.

The star is lit every September 11 to celebrate the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The star was performing well just two months ago, Eaton said.

“It’s kind of their opportunity to test for any issues and there was no issue at the time,” she said.

Once the star is lit each year, it will remain lit until the last musher of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race crosses the finish line approximately 1,609 kilometers in Nome. The world’s most famous sled dog race has its start ceremony in Anchorage on the first Saturday in March with a competitive start a day later about 50 miles north of Alaska’s largest city.

It is believed to be the first time the star has not fully lit in time, Eaton said.

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