More lightning means more wildfires in western, southwestern Alaska

Wildfire activity in Alaska continues to escalate as a result of thousands of lightning strikes in the western and southwestern parts of the state. Many of the new fires detected Wednesday are in remote areas designated as Limited protection zones and pose no threat. Those fires will be monitored by air.

Fire officials describe the fire activity seen so far this season as surface fires that are occurring before prolonged drying has had a chance to dry deeper duff layers.

“So far the fire season has been very subtle, but its gradually working into more and more activity,” said Tom Kurth, Division of Forestry Wildland Fire & Aviation Chief. “All the strikes we’ve had are possibly lying in wait for better, hotter weather.”

The Alaska Division of Forestry’s Pioneer Peak Interagency Hotshot Crew boards a plane at the Palmer Airport to travel to a fire near the Yukon River village of Holy Cross in western Alaska. on Wednesday night. Alaska Division of Forestry photo

More than 8,000 lightning strikes were recorded across Alaska on Wednesday, producing 30 new wildfire starts, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center in Fairbanks. In the past four days, nearly 20,000 lightning strikes have been recorded across Alaska and 78 new fires have been reported/detected, most of which were ignited by lightning strikes.

In response to the uptick in lightning and fires this week, 32 smokejumpers are trickling in from the Lower 48 to help with initial attack on remote fires to boost BLM Alaska Fire Service smokejumper ranks. As of Tuesday morning, there were 32 smokejumpers working on fires across Alaska, including three that traveled from Boise to Fairbanks Wednesday afternoon. They were sent to the Reindeer Lake Fire (#191) just hours after arriving at the smokejumper base on Fort Wainwright.

The Division of Forestry’s Southwest Area reported 16 new fires on Wednesday, bringing the total number of new fires in the previous two days in that Area to 27. Of that number 24 of those fires are active.

In BLM Alaska Fire Service protection areas, the Galena Zone in western and northwestern Alaska reported seven new fires on Wednesday and the Tanana Zone in the central Interior reported five new fires. The Galena Zone now has 28 active fires and the Tanana Zone has nine.

As of Thursday morning, there have been 177 wildfires reported this season and they have burned an estimated 17,264 acres.  There were 83 active fires in Alaska as of Thursday afternoon, 10 of which are begin staffed.

Here is a list of fires on which suppression action was taken on Wednesday and/or fires that will be staffed today:

Members of the Alaska Division of Forestry’s Pioneer Peak Interagency Hotshot Crew check their gear at the Palmer Airport before boarding a plane to travel to a fire near the Yukon River village of Holy Cross in western Alaska on Wednesday night. Alaska Division of Forestry photo

Alaska Division of Forestry Protection Areas:

  • Reindeer Lake Fire (#191) – Reported by a local resident across from the village of Holy Cross on the Yukon River. The fire is in a Modified protection area across the river from the village and up the Reindeer River. Aerial reconnaissance put the fire at an estimated 50 acres and it was burning in grass and tundra with black spruce forest on three sides. The fire was 85 percent active and it was slowly backing toward a cabin one-quarter mile away. Four BLM smokejumpers deployed to provide point protection for the cabin. The Pioneer Peak Interagency Hotshot Crew and a Type 2 hand crew have been assigned to the fire and will be arriving today.
  • Tatalina Fire (#190) – Reported by a pilot 8 miles west of McGrath just after5 p.m. A helicopter load of five firefighters from the McGrath forestry office was dispatched to the fire and reported it to be one-tenth of an acre burning in the tundra. The fire plotted in Full protection and firefighters suppressed it. The fire was declared out at 6:50 p.m.
  • Victoria Creek (#186) –  Initially reported as a one-half acre fire burning in tundra and black spruce in a Full protection area about 30 miles southeast of Aniak. One cabin was identified about 2 miles west of the fire on the bank of the Kuskokwim River. The fire was flown several hours later and had grown to an estimated 40 acres and was 75 percent active. Two allotments were identified about 2 miles south of the fire. Fire managers are planning to staff the fire today with a six-person module from McGrath.

BLM Alaska Fire Service areas:

  • Bismark Fire (#196) – While flying to Galena late Wednesday to preposition for quicker response to fires in the western half of the state, smokejumpers aboard a plane spotted smoke in the distance north of the Kobuk River. After checking it out and discovering a fire burning in tundra 10 miles east of Ambler, eight smokejumpers were put on the fire Thursday morning.
  • Bear Creek Fire (#189) – Four smokejumpers and two water-scooping Fire Boss airplanes made quick work of this fire burning about 15 miles north of Galena Wednesday night. The fire was spotted at 5:15 p.m. by Galena Zone personnel aboard an aircraft. It was originally 2 acres and active on 50 percent of the perimeter. It was burning through tundra and black spruce. Despite the Fire Bosses making progress, the fire was proving to be stubborn. Four smokejumpers were moved from the Long Lake Fire burning near Huslia to join the melee. The fire was stopped at just under 5 acres. The smokejumpers demobilized Thursday morning and the fire was put on monitor status.
  • Chandalar River Fire (#175) – With the help of two water-scooping Fire Boss airplanes, the eight smokejumpers that started working on the fire shortly after it was spotted Wednesday held the fire to 62 acres. This wind-driven fire quickly grew from 5 acres at the time it was spotted around 2 p.m, to 10 acres by the time smokejumpers arrived over the fire at 3:12 p.m. It had burned through grass from a dry lake bed into a mixture of hardwoods and black spruce. By 6:45 p.m., it had grown to its present size of 62 acres. The 20-person BLM AFS Midnight Sun Hotshots will replace the smokejumpers on the fire today to continue cooling down the edges and mopping up the fire.
  • Long Lake Fire (#150) – The four smokejumpers on the 10-acre fire about 3 miles from Huslia completely gridded the fire making sure all hot spots were cold before flying off the fire Thursday morning to work on another nearby fire. The fire was then placed in monitor status.
  • Deniktaw Ridge Fire (#117) – The 160-acre fire burning between Huslia and Hughes received a significant amount of rain in the past day and is considered 80 percent contained. Eight smokejumpers and the BLM AFS Type 2 training crew, the North Star Fire Crew, will continue mop up operations by making sure the fire’s perimeter is cold. Despite finding hotspots in the interior of the fire’s area, none were found on the perimeter Wednesday.
  • Crazy Mountain Fire (#130) – The 17-person Type 2 UAF Nanooks Wildland Fire Crew replaced the eight smokejumpers that were mopping up this 3-acre fire burning 14 miles north of Circle near 142 Mile Steese Highway. They expect to finish cutting a saw line around the fire on Friday.  The area is littered with downed trees making slowing the work.
  • Tusikpak Lake Fire (#116) – The eight smokejumpers on the fire since Monday night are still mopping up this 7,985-acre tundra fire burning about 16 miles southeast of Point Hope. They expect to have things wrapped up in the next few days and demobilize.

For more information, call the interagency Fire Information line at (907)356-5511.

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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