Wind shift brings smoke from northeastern fires to other parts of Alaska

Saturday’s warm, dry weather across the Upper Yukon River and surrounding uplands increased fire activity on a majority of the fires burning east of the Sheenjek River and along the Canadian border. A shift in the wind Saturday evening to the northeast is driving smoke towards communities along the Yukon River and the Dalton Highway corridor. Smoke has been reported in Allakaket, Venetie, Central, and on the Kenai Peninsula.

Cooler temperatures and higher relative humidities today could moderate some of the fires’ behavior. Motorists should be cautious when driving through smoke. Please slow down and turn on your headlights.

There were two more fires discovered Saturday in the Upper Yukon fire management zone. Two other fires were called out on Saturday, leaving the number of active fires in the management area at 30. Most of these fires are burning in remote areas designated for limited protection and are not threatening any sites of value. Despite this, firefighters are assigned to five of these fires to provide protection to cabins and Native allotments while allowing the remainder of the fires to continue to function in their natural ecological role.

Fire weather meteorologists say to expect the east to northeast winds to persist across the border for the next several days. Residents should expect smoky conditions to continue. Easterly flow will keep the waves of moisture moving across the Interior and southern parts of Alaska. However, dry conditions will continue in the north keeping fire behavior active along the southeast Brooks Range, the Yukon River and surrounding uplands.

Here’s a breakdown of staffed fires in the Upper Yukon Zone:

Vunle Lakes (#322) – A passing helicopter pilot discovered a two-acre fire smoldering and creeping with a 20 percent active perimeter burning 12 miles south of Chalkyitsik on Saturday. A load of eight smokejumpers were dropped on the fire and, with the assistance of a helicopter dropping buckets of water, were able to establish an initial containment line around fire perimeter keeping it to four acres. The jumpers will continue to improve their lines and check the areas where the fire may have spotted outside the perimeter.

Hadweenzic (#321) – .2 acres. Start date 7/7/17. Two personnel. Firefighters worked Saturday to extinguish hot spots located in the interior of the fire. No hot spots were discovered outside of the fire perimeter. Today they will once again grid the area to make sure there are no hot spots remaining. The lightning caused fire is 21 miles northeast of Beaver along the west side of the Kadweenzic River.

Big Lake (#308) – 5 acres. Start Date 7/5/17. 19 personnel. Alaska Division of Forestry’s Type 2 Initial Attack (IA) White Mountain crew reported that they have the fire 90 percent mopped up and that is showing little smoke. They will work towards completing their mop-up operation and continue to remove any hazardous trees or snags for the safety of firefighters, outdoor recreationists, and hunters when they return to the area. This fire is burning on Native land 5.6 miles northwest of Beaver.

Dietrich River (#304) – 285 acres. Start date 7/5/17. Four personnel. Alaska Fire service personnel are monitoring the fire that is burning along the Dalton Highway near Milepost 224. An Alaska Division of Forestry fire engine arrived Saturday to provide assistance to the two BLM Alaska Fire Service fire specialists on the fire. Motorists on the Dalton Highway are advised to approach the area with caution, keeping an eye out for fire personnel and smoke possibly obscuring the road.

Smoke rises from the Dietrich Fire burning along the east side of the Dalton Highway near Mile 224 on Saturday, July 8, 2017. This view is looking south down the highway. Kelly Lewis / BLM Alaska Fire Service

Boulder Creek (#292) – 5,365 acres, an increase of 925 acres since Friday. Start date 7/2/17. 39 personnel. Fire behavior increase on the northeast and southwest portion of the fire Saturday. The BLM AFS Type 1 Chena Interagency Hotshot Crew continues to improve saw line around a Native allotment and have completed a sprinkler system for structure protection measures around Vundik Lake. Also on Saturday, two loads of smokejumpers were deployed to the west of Vundik Lake. The 16 firefighters will work to protect a Native allotment on the east side of the Sheenjek River and start structure protection efforts on a permitted cabin at the confluence of the Sheenjek and Thluichohnjik Creek. This fire, along with White Snow Fire (#303) and Helmet Fire (#312) are all within eight miles of each other on the east side of the Shennjek River. They are burning in a limited suppression area in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Campbell River (#268) – 26,319 acres, an increase of 1,419 acres since Friday. Start date 6/26/17. 34 personnel. The winds changed direction in the afternoon and smoke moved over the fire limiting visibility. The BLM AFS Midnight Sun Interagency Hotshot Crew have completed preparations for protecting the Native allotment at the confluence of the Salmon Trout and Porcupine rivers and the Fish and Wildlife Service permitted cabin at the confluence of the Porcupine and Campbell rivers. Today they will cross the river and begin protection efforts for Old Rampart. The fire is burning in a limited protection area within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It started in the Yukon Territory and crossed into Alaska. The total fire size is estimated to be more than 90,000 acres.

The other new fire discovered on Saturday in the Upper Yukon Zone was reported by a smokejumper aircraft pilot as being 20 percent active, burning on the upper one-third of a hill and was approximately 1-acre in size. The Preacher Creek Fire (#323) is burning in a limited protection area of the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge about 23 miles northwest of Circle. It has been placed into monitor status.

Contact Public Information Officer Sam Harrel at (907) 322-7204 or pio.samharrel@gmail.com for more information.

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