Wildland fire managers on Monday were still assessing the damage done over the weekend when more than 60 new wildfires were started as a result of approximately 20,000 lightning strikes, mostly in the Interior.
Due to the high number of fires reported across the Interior on Sunday, firefirefighters from the Alaska Division of Forestry in Fairbanks and smokejumpers from the BLM Alaska Fire Service were scrambling to keep up with initial attack activity. At one point, all available smokejumpers were initial attacking fires while firefighters from the Division of Forestry were responding to multiple fire reports around Fairbanks.
Ironically, Mother Nature evidently felt a twinge of remorse on Monday for all the lightning-caused fires because she dumped heavy rain across parts of the Interior that should assist firefighters in suppressing some of the fires that started over the weekend. Approximately ¾ of an inch of rain was reported at Fairbanks International Airport from Sunday afternoon to Monday afternoon.
However, not all parts of the Interior received precipitation. Some areas west and north of Fairbanks did not receive precipitation and conditions remain dry. There are several fires burning in remote areas in the northern and western Interior and fire managers at the BLM Alaska Fire Service are still assessing what resources are needed on the various fires burning in the Tanana and Galena zones, as well as searching for any possible holdover fires as a result of the lightning over the weekend.
As of Monday morning, there had been 324 fires reported so far during 2016 and they have burned a total of 100,608 acres.
Here’s a roundup of fires both the Alaska Division of Forestry and BLM Alaska Fire Service are currently working on:
BLM Alaska Fire Service
First Creek Fire, 2 acres, and High Creek Fire, 1,233 acres (Galena Zone) – Multi-faceted suppression efforts weren’t successful in knocking down the High Creek Fire. Eight smokejumpers working on the ground moved to the nearby Hogatza Mine site to set up structure protection to protect a nearby Bureau of Land Management resource building and a neighboring weather station. The mine prepared to use bulldozers on private lands to protect its property. The two fires have burned an estimated total of 1,235 acres. Yesterday, eight smokejumpers, helicopters and the two larger water-scooping CL-415 airplanes worked these two fires that are in close proximity to each other. The fires were reported as burning through black spruce near the mine that is located approximately nine miles north of the Koyukuk River before it winds its way down to Huslia.
Bergman Creek Fire, 7 acres, and Siruk Creek Fire, 20 acres (Tanana Zone) – These two fires are burning near the village of Alatna on the western side of the Koyukuk River. The fires are still about 15 miles from Alatna. However, there are Native allotments and cabins along the Alatna River that runs about three miles to the northeast of the Siruk Creek Fire. In addition to eight smokejumpers who have been working the fire since Sunday, two Type 2 Emergency Firefighter crews – one from nearby Allakaket and the other from Hughes – will be used and combined with BLM AFS fire specialists to manage the suppression efforts. The two fires were estimated to be six miles apart from each other with Siruk Creek to the north. Allakaket is on the opposite side of the river. Four smaller water-scooping Fire Boss airplanes were used to drop water on the Bergman Creek Fire on Sunday to compliment the efforts of smokejumpers on the ground. This fire was reported by a resident in nearby Allakaket. More crews were expected to join the suppression effort on Monday.
West Fork Fire, 30 acres (Tanana Zone) – Fairbanks Flight Control reported a fire burning about seven miles off the Elliott Highway near Livengood at about 10:15 p.m. Sunday. Due to high fire activity around the Interior, there weren’t any resources available to put on this fire. It was estimated to be 30 acres and 100 percent active burning in alpine tundra. It is burning near the Cascaden Ridge Subdivision. The fire received some rain overnight. The 20-person Chena Interagency Hotshot crew and fire specialists from the BLM Alaska Fire Service were scheduled to start suppression efforts Monday. Tanana Zone fire officials feel confident that the ground efforts will be able to catch the fire.
Medicine Lake, 7 acres (Upper Yukon Zone) – This fire was reported Sunday night. This fire is burning about 4.6 miles east of Circle Hot Springs near Medicine Lake. It’s burning near a full protection area and near allotments and an airstrip. It was reported burning in spruce and tundra and is active at two ends today. It’s estimated at about 30 acres. A load of BLM AFS smokejumpers were sent to the fire, however, they were unable to parachute into the area due to high winds. Instead, they will try to land at an airstrip in the area and try again if the winds die down. Two water-scooping aircraft have been tasked to join the suppression effort.
Alaska Division of Forestry
Poker Creek Fire, 22.7 acres (Fairbanks Area) – Lightning-caused fire reported by DOF air attack personnel while working on the nearby 2016 Washington Creek Fire Sunday afternoon. Initial size up was 40 acres and air retardant tankers were called in. One load of smokejumpers were deployed to begin suppression work. Fire was knocked down by combination of retardant and precipitation. Smokejumpers were able to get line around 70 percent of the perimeter. The fire received ¾ of an inch of rain last night and rain has been falling on the fire all day Monday. The Yukon Type 2 Initial Attack Crew was released from the fire Monday and the fire is being monitored.
Fairbanks Creek Fire, 1.4 acres (Fairbanks Area) – Reported by DOF air attack personnel on Sunday while working on the nearby Poker Creek Fire. Upon arrival fire was 3 acres, 10% percent active and burning in open black spruce. A helicopter responded to do bucket work and DOF personnel secured the area with hose around two-thirds of the fire. Two DOF engines remained on the fire overnight to secure the perimeter. The fire was lightning caused.
Healy Lake Holdover #1, 1 acre (Delta Area) – Reported by mushroom pickers on Sunday afternoon southwest of Delta Junction. A helicopter responded and dropped nine buckets of water on the fire. A short squad of 4 DOF personnel found numerous hotspots and they were dug up, mopped up, gridded and cold-trailed. Fire is contained and controlled and personnel will be demobbed Monday.
2016 Washington Creek Fire, 40 acres (Fairbanks Area) – Lightning-caused fire reported Saturday night between Elliott and Steese Highways, about 25 miles north of Fairbanks. Air retardant tankers and water-scooping aircraft knocked the fire down on initial attack and smokejumpers were flown in take suppression action. The Chena Interagency Hotshot Crew and Fairbanks #2 Type 2 Crew were called in to replace the smokejumpers on Sunday and continued suppression efforts. The fire received heavy rain both Sunday afternoon and Monday which helped moderate fire activity. The Chena Hotshots were released from the fire Monday morning and another Type 2 crew, the Buckland Crew, was scheduled to arrive on the fire Monday but weather was preventing them from being flown in at last report.
Tetlin River Fire, 818 acres (Tok Area) – Fire was reported June 17 south of Tok and quickly blew up, coming less than a mile from Tetlin Village. A Type 3 team took over the fire. Fire is now 68 percent contained and demobilization of crews and overhead has begun. At peak activity there were almost 350 personnel on the fire but that number has dropped to 267 as of late Sunday night. More crews are scheduled to be demobbed in the next few days and the fire should be turned back over to Tok Forestry on Friday. The fire received heavy rain on Saturday and more light precipitation on Sunday. Crews continue to mop up 300 feet inside the fire perimeter while also doing heavy saw work to remove hazard trees on the Tetlin River corridor and local trails to reduce risk to firefighters and villagers. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Bonanza Creek Fire, 1 acre (Fairbanks Area) – Caller reported smoke in Rosie Creek Valley Sunday at 3:09 p.m. Multiple DOF engines responded in addition to a strike team of 4 engines. Personnel hiked in 1.5 miles, utilizing a helicopter to find the fire, as it was knocked down by rain and the smoke was not visible. Fire was 20% active, smoldering in black spruce. Personnel worked the fire and managed the visible heat. Personnel remained overnight to continue suppression.
Billy Creek Fire, 1 acre (Tok Area) – Reported by a local resident at 4 p.m. Saturday approximately 11 miles north of Dot Lake and north of the Tanana River. DOF personnel responded but the fire was not road accessible and there was no place to land a helicopter so four smokejumpers were dropped on the fire to cut out a landing zone for the helicopter. Another helicopter was diverted from the Tetlin River Fire south of Tok to assist with water drops on the fire. Bucket work by the two helicopters knocked the fire. Smokejumpers completed the helispot and were demobilized from the fire late Saturday afternoon. The Nikolai Type 2 Crew was reassigned from the Tetlin River Fire on Sunday to assist with mop up. Saw line has been cut around the entire perimeter and crews began mop up operations on Monday. The fire received light precipitation on Sunday, also. The fire should be contained/controlled by the end of shift Monday.
Caribou Creek Fire, 5 acres (Fairbanks Area) – Reported at 4:10 p.m. Saturday about 30 miles northeast of Fairbanks and 10 miles north of Chena Hot Springs Road. Helitack from Fairbanks responded and found a 5-acre fire spreading to black spruce and hardwoods. An air retardant tanker and helicopter dropped retardant and water on the fire to prevent it from spreading. A load of eight smokejumpers from the BLM Alaska Fire Service and a helitack load of five Division of Forestry technicians remained on the fire overnight to continue suppression efforts. Smokejumpers were demobilized on Sunday morning and the fire received heavy rain Sunday afternoon. Demobilization of six DOF personnel is scheduled for end of shift on Monday.