New wildfires continue to pop up in northern Alaska

Wildfire season continues to persist in northern Alaska with the discovery of three new lightning-caused fires in the BLM Alaska Fire Service’s protection area on Friday. Two new fires were found in the Upper Yukon Zone and one was reported in the Tanana Zone.

Surveillance aircraft discovered the Lower Birch Fire (#359) along the Yukon River about 15 miles northeast of the village of Beaver. The fire was reported to be about one-quarter of an acre and was smoldering in white spruce. The fire plotted in a Full suppression management area and four BLM Smokejumpers were deployed to the fire at 6:45 p.m. Smokejumpers worked late into the night to get a line around the fire and will continue suppression actions today with a tentative demobilization planned for late Sunday or Monday.

The Forty and One Half Fire (#360) was also found by surveillance aircraft about 30 miles north of Beaver. The fire was reported at approximately 2 acres with a 70 percent active perimeter and spreading north. Fire behavior was reported as smoldering and backing with occasional torching in black spruce. The fire is in a Limited protection area and will be monitored.

The Sulatna River Fire (#357) was reported by a private pilot about 30 miles east of Ruby and was estimated at approximately 10 acres. However, two surveillance flights were unable to locate the fire on Friday and fire managers will continue to monitor the area with aircraft in an effort to locate it.

Hot, dry conditions continued to persist in the southwest portion of the state on Friday, with temperatures reaching into the 80s in some areas of the southwest and western Interior. Cooler temperatures in the 70s were reported in the northern part of the state.

There was active fire behavior on fires in the western Interior, most notably the Nowitna Fire (#336) about 80 miles southwest of Tanana, and the Khotol Fire (#183) approximately 50 miles southwest of Galena, both of which experienced significant acreage growth on Friday.

Fire weather concerns are forecast to diminish early next week as a cooler, moist air mass moves in from the west that could bring significant rainfall to much of the state.

As of Saturday morning, there were 52 active fires in the BLM Alaska Fire Service (BLM AFS) protection area, seven of which have personnel working on them. Most of these fires are burning in remote areas designated for Limited protection and are not threatening any known sites of value. Personnel on staffed fires are working to protect cabins and Native allotments while allowing the remainder of the fire to function in its natural role.

For the season, there have been 317 fires in Alaska that have burned an estimated 533,333 acres, most of which has been in the BLM AFS protection area. As of Saturday morning, there have been 157 fires in the BLM AFS protection area that have burned an estimated 452,329 acres. The majority of that burned acreage (341,827 acres) has been in the Upper Yukon Zone east of the Dalton Highway.

Here’s a breakdown of BLM AFS staffed fires:

Jack White Fire (#344) – 11.8 acres. Start date 7/16/17. 34 personnel. Personnel continued mop-up operations, gridding the main part of the fire and green areas around the fire in search of hot spots but did not find any. A full demobilization of all personnel is planned for Sunday. The fire is approximately 6 miles northeast of Bettles on the western edge of the Jack White Range.

Nowitna Fire (#336) – 16,000 acres, an increase of 7,000 acres since Thursday. Start date 7/14/17. 8 personnel. A reconnaissance flight on Friday showed the fire spreading in all directions with very active fire behavior on all fronts. The fire had nearly doubled in size since Thursday to 16,000 acres and had a 90 percent active perimeter. Fire behavior was described as running and torching with a moderate rate of spread. The fire was reported to be approximately 1 mile from a cabin that is being protected and approximately 7 miles from an allotment at the mouth of Mastodon Creek. Personnel will do a reconnaissance of the fire today and prepare the cabin for a burnout if needed. The fire is 48 miles southeast of Ruby in the Nowitna National Wildlife Refuge

Boulder Creek Fire (#292) – 41,186 acres. Start date 7/2/17. 4 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. Two BLM Fire Specialists remain at Vundik Lake and two smokejumpers that were camped along the Sheenjek River will be demobilized today. Personnel on Friday backhauled supplies and equipment via helicopter. This fire and the Helmet Fire (#312) are within 3 miles of each other on the east side of the Sheenjek River. They are burning in a Limited suppression area over 60 miles northeast of Fort Yukon in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Campbell River Fire (#268) – 84,919 acres. Burning in Alaska since 6/26/17. 27 personnel. Heavy precipitation was reported on the fire overnight Friday. The BLM Type 2 Fort Yukon #2 Crew and the BLM Fire Familiarization group on Friday continued cold trailing and gridding 200 feet in from the fire perimeter in search of hot spots. An unmanned aerial system was used to conduct an infrared flight to seek out any remaining areas of heat 300 feet in from the perimeter but did not find much. Today, personnel will complete a grid 300 feet in from the fire perimeter and begin prepping for demobilization. The fire is burning in a limited protection area along the Porcupine River within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It started in the Yukon Territory on June 22 and crossed into Alaska on June 26. The total fire size is estimated to be more than 147,000 acres.

Trout Creek Fire (#256) – 2,887 acres. Start date 6/21/17. 25 personnel. The fire received significant rain on Friday but it was reported to be sunny on Saturday. The Midnight Sun Interagency Hotshot Crew on Friday continued cutting a saw line around a Native allotment that is approximately 5 miles from the fire. Saw line is completed around one-third of the allotment and personnel will continue to cut saw line today. A helicopter was used to assess two cabins in the area for protection measures. If weather allows, personnel will also do a reconnaissance of a National Park Service cabin at the mouth of the Kandik River, about 35 miles downstream on the Yukon River, to begin plans to remove sprinklers, pumps and hoses that were previously set up by smokejumpers. The fire is about 22 miles northwest of Eagle.

Khotol Fire (#183) – 11,807 acres, an increase of 3,479 acres since Thursday. Start date 6/6/17. 10 personnel. The fire exhibited active fire behavior on Friday, growing nearly 3,500 acres in size. Personnel continued to mop up following Thursday’s successful burn-out operation to remove burnable vegetation between the eastside of the allotment they are protecting. Personnel will continue mop-up operations today. The fire is burning on Native corporation land 14 miles east of Kaltag on the opposite side of the Yukon River.

Contact Public Information Officer Tim Mowry at (907) 356-5511 or tim.mowry@alaska.gov for more information.

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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