The Alaska Division of Forestry is continuing to monitor nine coal seam fires east of Healy that have been detected in the past two weeks. The fires range in size from one-tenth of an acre to 643 acres and have burned a total of 795.7 acres since the first fire, the 108-acre French Gulch Fire, was reported on May 17.
These surface wildland fires were started from pre-existing underground coal seam fires that are extremely difficult to put out and may burn for hundreds of years. Large areas east of Healy are underlain with coal seams and coal seam outcrops. Nearby coal seams are found along Healy Creek, Lignite Creek, California Creek, and extend east to the Totatlanika River and possibly as far as the Tatlanika River. Large areas of coal bearing rocks are present around Jumbo Dome.
The fires typically start during periods of very dry, warm, and windy weather. It is unsafe for firefighters to directly attack these fires because of noxious gases and the potential of ground collapse over the burning coal seams. Instead, fire managers have used helicopters to drop water on the surface fires to help keep them from spreading, and to actively monitor the fires. Fire spread is minimal to moderate because these fires are burning in areas where recent wildland fires have already consumed much of the surface fuels.
This will be the last update on the coal seam fires unless there is a significant change in fire activity.