July 7, 2016 – The BLM Alaska Fire Service continues to work on protecting cabins and allotments from a fire burning on the east side of Iniakuk Lake located about 42 miles northwest of Bettles. The Iniakuk Fire (#320) activity slowed on Tuesday due to higher humidity levels and cloud cover in the area, but was still slowly burning downslope toward the lake with the occasional torching of trees. Winds of up to 20 mph on Tuesday pushed the fire south within a few hundred feet of an allotment and within a mile of a cabin on the southeast edge of the lake. The area received light rains on Wednesday. It is estimated to have burned 4,652 acres.
This lightning-caused fire was discovered burning on State land in a limited fire suppression area on June 26. Values at risk are sparse in these limited suppression areas, and fires are typically allowed to burn to preserve the natural role of fire in the ecosystem. State land mangers decided to take a non-standard response to Fire #320, due to Native allotments and structures 1.5 miles to the west of the fire on Lake Iniakuk. Eight smokejumpers and water-scooping aircraft were deployed to suppress the fire while it was still seven acres. Smokejumpers contained the fire after the second shift, but during a transition with incoming resources that was delayed due to aircraft availability, strong winds from a thunder cell caused the fire to spot outside it containment lines. The fire began spreading east and northward up the Iniakuk River drainage. The original eight smokejumpers and an additional load of eight were deployed to catch the slop-over with help from water scooping aircraft. However, efforts were unsuccessful, and a point protection strategy was chosen by the land manager as the safest and most cost efficient means of protection the values on Lake Iniakuk.
The fire did eventually burn over the lower edge of the ridge and is now close to the cabin and Native allotment. It has also burned on both sides of the Iniakuk River for three miles and an additional half mile on the west side of the river. Smokejumpers have been concentrating on protecting these sites and others, plus the Iniakuk Wilderness Lake Lodge, its associated buildings, and a nearby homestead. These additional buildings are located on the western side and northern edge of the lake. That has included setting up pumps and sprinklers on the buildings. A recent plan to burn out areas around some of these sites to remove fuels has been hampered by higher humidity levels and cloud cover that unfortunately hasn’t completely stymied the fire. In addition to the water-scooping Fire Bosses and larger CL-415s, helicopters and other airplanes have been busy flying in the area to deliver supplies to the smokejumpers on the ground and keep a look-out for fire activity not spotted from the ground.
There have been bouts of hot and dry weather with intermittent winds blowing through the area since the start of the fire. In addition, the fire has experienced some evening thunderstorms that kicked up shifting winds. There’s a chance the fire will receive rain in the next few days, but for now smokejumpers continue to work on fortifying protection efforts.
For more information, contact Beth Ipsen, BLM AFS public affairs specialist at email firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (907)356-5511 or cell (907)388-2159.