Hot, dry weather persists for northeast Alaska fires

Hot, dry weather persists over the northeastern Interior keeping wildland fire activity high today and tomorrow north of Fort Yukon and in Canada. Smoke from these fires has spread across much of Alaska the past several days. A cold front out of the northern Yukon Territory is forecasted to move into the northeast Interior forecast for Saturday night. It is expected to improve smoke conditions across the state and moderate fire activity on the fires burning east of the Sheenjek River and along the Canadian border. However, there will be continued areas of smoke until the fires in northeast Alaska and northwestern Canada get a large amount of rain.

There are 27 active fires in the Upper Yukon fire management zone that covers a section of the state east of the Dalton Highway to the Canadian border and from the Arctic Ocean south to Livengood and Chicken. Most of these fires are burning in remote areas designated for limited protection and are not threatening any known sites of value. Despite this, firefighters are assigned to two fires to protect cabins and Native allotments. Using the strategy of point protection, personnel protect specific assets or valued resources from the wildfire without directly halting the continued spread of the wildfire. They accomplish this by cutting a saw line, or fire break around their site of value. The saw line is plumbed with pumps and hose lays that carries water along the fire break. Cabin sites are cleared of brush and sprinkler systems are set up to keep the area wet as the fire passes. As the approaching fire draws near, firefighters can initiate a burnout to remove fuel from between them and the advancing front. Lookouts are placed along the fire break watching for possible spots over the line that additional firefighters suppress with their hand tools, hoses and support from water dropping aircraft. The remainder of the fire continues to function in its natural ecological role.

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

Dietrich River (#304) – 332 acres. Start date 7/5/17. Four personnel. BLM Alaska Fire Service (BLM AFS) and Alaska Division of Forestry (DOF) personnel monitoring the fire, which is burning along the Dalton Highway near Milepost 224, walked the perimeter on Thursday and mapped it to be 332 acres. They reported that the fire area received quite a bit of rain and that there was no dominant smoke visible from the highway. Motorists on the highway are advised to approach the area with caution, keeping an eye out for smoke possibly obscuring the road. All personnel are demobilizing from the fire today. This is the last update for this fire unless significant activity occurs. The BLM AFS will continue to monitor the fire.

Boulder Creek (#292) – 23,384 acres. Start date 7/2/17. 75 personnel. Firefighters are organized into two different groups, both tasked with providing protection to Native allotments and permitted cabins in the area of Vundik Lake and the Sheenjek River. Crews will continue to improve their saw lines and sprinkler set ups as they hold their positions and monitor the fires burning nearby. Aerial reconnaissance Thursday reported a 30 percent active perimeter and spreading to the north – away from firefighter’s positions. The fire was creeping and backing with isolated torching in black spruce. Crews are also utilizing an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to monitor the fire’s progress. The fire is 1.3-miles north of the Vundik Lake cabin, 2.5 miles from the allotment on the lake, and 4-miles from the allotment on the Sheenjek River. Reconnaissance also reported that the White Snow Fire (#303) was consumed by the Helmet Fire (#312) and will now be referred to as the Helmet Fire. It is 3.5 to 4-miles from the Thluichohnjik Creek cabin. These two fires are within six miles of each other on the east side of the Sheenjek River. They are burning in a limited suppression area in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Campbell River Fire burns to the southwest of the confluence of the Salmon Trout and Porcupine rivers Thursday, July 13, 2017, near the Canadian border in northeast Alaska. A fire break is visible in the foreground cut to protect Native allotments and the historic area of Old Rampart, an area from the days of riverboat trade between fur buyers and local trappers. James Higgins / BLM Alaska Fire Service

The Campbell River Fire burns to the southwest of the confluence of the Salmon Trout and Porcupine rivers Thursday, July 13, 2017, near the Canadian border in northeast Alaska. A fire break is visible in the foreground cut to protect Native allotments and the historic area of Old Rampart, an area from the days of riverboat trade between fur buyers and local trappers. James Higgins / BLM Alaska Fire Service

Campbell River (#268) – 45,522 acres and increase of 12,421 acres from Wednesday. Burning in Alaska since 6/26/17. 35 personnel. Firefighters continue to improve their saw lines and sprinkler set ups as they prepare to protect Native allotments and permitted cabins in the areas of Salmon Trout, Porcupine, and Campbell rivers. Aerial reconnaissance Thursday reported the fire was 25 percent active and was spreading to the north. Obvserved fire behavior included backing and torching in black spruce with 10-foot flame lengths. The southwest portion of the fire is the most active. It has made a long, narrow 12-mile run and is within 2.5 miles of the allotment on the Salmon Trout and Porcupine rivers. Firefighters are wetting an area of the allotment in anticipation of a burnout operation from the allotment line. 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 on June 26. The total fire size is estimated to be more than 94,000 acres.

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

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