Alaska’s stubborn wildfire season persists with new fires, smoky conditions

Wildfire season refuses to wave the white flag in Alaska, as two new fires were reported in BLM Alaska Fire Service’s protection area on Saturday, one of which required a response from personnel based in Galena. In addition, a pair of wildfires burning in the western Interior continue to be active and heavy smoke from those fires was being reported in areas north of Fairbanks on Sunday morning.

Four BLM AFS personnel on Saturday responded to a wildfire threat at a Native allotment approximately 13 miles upstream of Galena along the Yukon River. A Galena resident reported that three cabins on the allotment had burned down and the fire was moving into the wildlands. Two helicopters and four personnel from Galena responded to the fire, which was burning and backing in leaf understory and slash. One helicopter was used to dump water on the fire while personnel spent about 5 hours putting in a hose lay and mopping up the fire perimeter. An Alaska State Trooper was transported to the fire on Saturday and is investigating the cause of the structure fire.

Also on Saturday, a smoke report was received from Fairbanks Flight Service regarding a wildfire located approximately 95 miles northwest of Fairbanks. Aircraft flew the area and confirmed an approximately 1-acre fire burning in fireweed. The fire plotted in a Limited suppression area, posed no threat to any values and no action was taken. The fire will continue to be monitored by air.

Meanwhile, active fire behavior continued to be reported on a pair of fires burning in the western Interior. Both the Nowitna Fire (#336), about 80 miles southwest of Tanana, and the Khotol Fire (#183), approximately 50 miles southwest of Galena, were producing significant smoke that was being pushed into the Fairbanks area by southwest winds. There were reports of heavy smoke in areas north of Fairbanks on the Steese and Elliott highways, including the community of Central.

A weather system expected to bring rain across the northern half of the state starting Sunday evening should provide some relief from the smoke and dampen fire behavior on fires burning in the western Interior and possibly the northeast Interior, where several fires continue to smolder east of the Dalton Highway and along the Alaska/Canada border.

As of Saturday morning, there were 46 active fires in the BLM Alaska Fire Service protection area. 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 319 fires in Alaska that have burned an estimated 537,415 acres, most of which has been in the BLM AFS protection area. As of Saturday morning, there have been 159 fires in the BLM AFS protection area that have burned an estimated 456,430 acres. The majority of that burned acreage (343,029827 acres) has been in the Upper Yukon Zone east of the Dalton Highway.

Here’s a breakdown of BLM AFS staffed fires:

Lower Birch Fire (#359) – 0.2 acres. Start date 7/21/17. 4 personnel. Four BLM Smokejumpers worked to secure the fire line and clean up downed trees. Mop-up operations will continue today with a tentative demobilization date set for Monday. The fire is located in a Full suppression area along the Yukon River about 15 miles northeast of the village of Beaver.

Jack White Fire (#344) – 11.8 acres. Start date 7/16/17. 34 personnel. Aircraft flew the fire area on Saturday and observed no smoke or change in size. Personnel performed a final grid of the fire and found no heat. A helicopter was used to backhaul equipment to Bettles in preparation for a full demobilization today that will include the North Star Type 2 Crew and smokejumpers. The fire is approximately 6 miles northeast of Bettles on the western edge of the Jack White Range.

Nowitna Fire (#336) – 18,000 acres, an increase of 2,000 acres since Friday. Start date 7/14/17. 8 personnel. Active fire behavior was observed on Saturday during the day and evening, as hot, windy, smoky conditions presided over the fire. Firefighters observed flame lengths of about 50 feet in the evening and the fire was putting up a significant smoke column that prevented the use of aircraft for reconnaissance. Smokejumpers conducted a successful burnout operation in the evening to protect a cabin on the Nowitna River that is about one-half mile from the fire. The fire is not yet established in the flats and remains on the hillside. A reconnaissance flight is scheduled for Sunday morning to check on cabins that are 8 to 9 miles east, as the fire continues to move in that direction. The fire is 48 miles southeast of Ruby in the Nowitna National Wildlife Refuge

Campbell River Fire (#268) – 84,919 acres. Burning in Alaska since 6/26/17. 27 personnel. The Fort Yukon #2 Type 2 Crew spent Saturday searching for hot spots and found none within 300 feet of the fire perimeter. Several infrared flights were conducted with unmanned aerial systems in the morning and evening to search for heat. One spot of residual heat was detected within a peat layer on a river bank more than 1,000 feet from the fire’s edge. Personnel from the BLM AFS Fire Familiarization Program worked near a cabin site Saturday to restore the area to its original state by moving equipment and supplies elsewhere. Today, helicopters will be used to shuttle excess equipment back to Fort Yukon to prepare for demobilization on Monday. The fire is located 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. Very little smoke was observed over the fire on Saturday. The Midnight Sun Interagency Hotshot Crew continued cutting a saw line around a Native allotment that is approximately 5 miles from the fire. The saw line has been cut around approximately two-thirds of the allotment and the plan for today is to complete the saw line. Weather permitting, personnel will also remove pumps, hose and sprinklers that were set up previously at a National Park Service public-use cabin about 35 miles downstream at the mouth of the Kandik River. The fire is about 22 miles northwest of Eagle in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.

Khotol Fire (#183) – 11,807 acres, an increase of 3,479 acres since Thursday. Start date 6/6/17. 10 personnel. The fire was active again on Saturday as a result of continued hot, dry and windy conditions. Driven by steady southwest winds, the fire made a 4-mile run to the northeast in black spruce. Firefighters reported lots of trees coming down due to the deep burning conditions. The western edge of the fire is .6 miles from a Native allotment and 1.4 miles from a cabin. Rain is expected to move into the area later today and if the weather forecast proves to be true the fire should not reach the allotment or cabin. 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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