Rain takes edge off fire activity in southwest and western Alaska

Widespread rain has diminished wildfire activity in southwest and western Alaska the past two days, though several fires continue to burn and grow in size.

Just about all the fires burning in the Alaska Division of Forestry’s Southwest Area and the BLM Alaska Fire Service’s Galena Zone received varying amounts of precipitation over the past two days, moderating fire behavior and reducing the threat to villages and values at risk.

Of the 111,609 acres burned in Alaska as of Saturday morning, 106,000 of those acres has been in the Southwest Area (61,899 acres) and Galena Zone (44,101 acres), a huge area that essentially encompasses the western half of the Alaska from north to south.

There are 27 active fires reported in the Galena Zone and 14 in the Southwest Area, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center on Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks. Those two areas account for 41 of the state’s 57 active fires.

The widespread precipitation has given the more than 230 firefighters working on fires a reprieve from the hot, dry weather over the area much of the past week.

There are currently 10 staffed fires in the Southwest Area and Galena Zone. The biggest of those fires is the 16,746-acre Pitka Fork Fire burning approximately 60 miles east of McGrath in the Southwest Area.

Here is a rundown of the staffed fires in both areas:

Southwest Area (Alaska Division of Forestry)

Spruce Creek Fire (#155) – 42 acres, 18 personnel. Members of the Nikolai Type 2 Crew continued to grid 100 feet in from the outside perimeter and sawyers cleaned up the fireline of this fire burning approximately 30 miles west of McGrath. Three hotspots were found on the south end of the fire and no hotspots were found on the north end after gridding was complete. The crew will continue mopping up until the hotspots are extinguished. The fire is 90 percent contained.

The Pitka Fork Fire burns around a lake approximately 60 miles east of McGrath on June 8, 2017. At an estimated 16,746 acres, it is the biggest fire currently in Alaska. Cabins with red fire retardant around them are visible at the edge of the lake. Kevin Menkens/Alaska DNR – Division of Forestry

Pitka Fork Fire (#160) -16,746 acres, 38 personnel. Minimal fire activity was reported on t his fire approximately 60 miles east of McGrath during a Friday flight with occasional tree torching and a few isolated runs. Crews made good progress working to protect structures in the area of Windy River and East Lakes, mopping up 100 feet in around structures. Assessment of structures along Sheep Creek and the Farewell airstrip for possible protection continues.

Bell Creek Fire (#161) – 2,675 acres, 57 personnel. The highest priority fire currently in Southwest Alaska. It is burning within two miles of the village of Crooked Creek on the Kuskokwim River, approximately 110 miles southwest of McGrath. The fire received rain on Friday and the perimeter was  only 1 percent active during an afternoon flight. Crews continue setting up structure protection on the north end of the village closest to the fire with the intent to take a more direct attack starting tomorrow. A community meeting was held at the Crooked Creek School on Saturday to inform local residents of progress on the fire.

Ball Creek Fire (#164), 8,462 acres, 20 personnel. This fire approximately 75 miles southwest of McGrath and eight miles west of the historical mining site of Flat received rain on Friday and an afternoon flight revealed minimal fire activity with a 2 percent active perimeter burning in a patch of tundra on the south end. A Type 2 crew from Nondalton was mobilized to the fire Friday afternoon. Crew members are scouting structures in Flat to come up with a protection plan if needed.

For more information on fires in the Southwest Area, contact Division of Forestry public information officer Tim Mowry at 907-356-5512.

Galena Zone (Alaska Fire Service)

The Alaska Fire Service’s Midnight Sun Interagency Hotshot Crew was divided up this week and put on a cluster of fires burning south of St. Michael on the west coast. While some worked on the Kogok 3 Fire, a squad of six tackled the nearby Kogok River Fire. After successfully containing the Kogok River Fire, they were shuttled to the nearby Nonvalnuk Fire.  Once these fires are deemed contained, they plan on joining forces with smokejumpers working on the 3,439-acre Toik Hill Fire. Two water-scooping Fire Boss airplanes and a plane with BLM AFS capable of coordinating the air support were in the air to help with fire suppression efforts on several of the fires while helicopters helped shuttle screws around.

Deadmans Slough Fire (#162) – 759 acres, 55 personnel. Crews continue to plug away at this lightning-caused fire burning within 2 miles of the Yukon River village of Anvik. It was 75 percent contained as of Saturday morning. The Type 1 Chena Interagency Hotshot Crew and a Type 2 emergency firefighter crew from Grayling are working together to contain the left flank and the head of the fire. The remaining smokejumpers are making great gains on a slop-over on the other side of a slough. A Type 2 crew from Mountain Village was scheduled to arrive today to work on the right flank of the fire.

Kogok River Fire (#175) – 2,579 acres, 0 personnel. A squad of Midnight Sun hotshots hammered away the morning of June 8 and were able to call it contained by 5 p.m. The fire, approximately 25 miles south of St. Michael, was placed in monitor status and a helicopter shuttled the six hotshots to the Nonvalnuk Fire.

The 3,439-acre Toik Hill Fire burns approximately 23 miles east of the west coast village of St. Michael. The fire consumed the nearby 185-acre Golsovia 2 Fire to the north. Ryan McPherson/BLM Alaska Fire Service

Toik Hill Fire (#185) — 3,439 acres, 0 personnel. When the fire was flown on Friday, the fire was burning to the north at a low rate of spread. The fire’s edge is still about 2 to 5 miles from Native allotments. Two smaller water scoopers and another airplane were initially dispatched to the fire, but were later diverted to the Kogok 3 Fire where they were able to work with crews on the ground. As a result, The Toik Hill Fire consumed the nearby 185-acre Golsovia 2 Fire burning to the north. The Toik Hill Fire is burning about 23 miles east of St. Michael.

Nonvalnuk Fire (#189) — 8,863 acres, 6 personnel. Fire activity was low and the fire perimeter was cold when a squad of six Midnight Sun Hotshots arrived on June 8. A helicopter is shuttling the squad to the different hotspots spread out in the interior of the fire. Two Fire Boss airplanes also doused the hotspots with water. This lightning-caused fire is burning in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge about 16 miles south of St. Michael.

Kogok 3 Fire (#192) —5,829 acres, 17 personnel. A fly over yesterday discovered activity on the north end with a few smokes on the south end, which is hung up along a creek. Aircraft, including two Fire Bosses, were moved to this fire to support ground personnel. The fire is hung up on south side along a creek. There are two Native allotments about a mile from the fire, which is burning about 30 miles southwest of St. Michael.

Andreafsky Fire (#206) — 759 acres, 8 personnel. The eight smokejumpers assigned to the fire finished night and called the fire contained at 8 p.m. Friday. They should demobilize today. This lightning-caused fire approximately 16 miles north of the village of St. Mary’s experienced cooler temperatures, cloud cover and some precipitation on Friday to help smokejumpers.

For more information on fires in the Galena Zone, contact BLM Alaska Fire Service public affairs officer Beth Ipsen at 907-356-5510.

About Alaska Division of Forestry

Alaska Division of Forestry website: http://forestry.alaska.gov/ Mission: The Alaska Division of Forestry proudly serves Alaskans through forest management and wildland fire protection. The Wildland Fire and Aviation Program provides safe, cost-effective and efficient fire protection services and related fire and aviation management activities to protect human life and values on State, private and municipal lands. The wildland fire program cooperates with other wildland fire agencies on a statewide, interagency basis.

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