Wildfire season arrived in earnest over the weekend with a spate of human-caused wildfires in Southcentral Alaska.
The Alaska Division of Forestry responded to 13 fire reports on Saturday and Sunday, all but two of which were located on the Kenai Peninsula and in the Mat-Su Valley. All 13 fires were human caused.
One of those fires, the 2.5-acre Bluff Drive Fire in Ninilchik on Saturday, forced the evacuation of four homes, one of which was damaged by flames as the fire passed by the house. Firefighters from the Division of Forestry and local fire departments were able to suppress the flames to save the home. The fire was human caused but the specific cause remains under investigation.
The spike in wildfire activity is attributable primarily to the extremely dry, pre-green-up conditions persisting around much of the state. Warmer-than-normal temperatures combined with earlier-than-normal snow melt and lack of precipitation has resulted in extremely volatile fuel conditions. The dead, dry grass and brush prevalent in most areas of the state are receptive to any kind of ignition source and will remain that way until green-up occurs or we get precipitation, according to the Division of Forestry. Fire managers urge extreme caution with any kind of burning or other activity that could spark a wildfire.
State forestry issued burn suspensions for the Kenai Peninsula on Sunday and Monday and in Delta and Tok on Monday due to the dry conditions. Residents with burn permits need to contact their local Division of Forestry office any day they are planning to burn to make sure there are no burn suspensions in place in their area. They can also go to http://forestry.alaska.gov/burn to see if burning is allowed and to learn about safe burning practices. Open debris burning and the use of burn barrels are prohibited during a burn suspension, while small warming or camp fires under 3 feet in diameter are allowed.
In the Mat-Su Valley, state forestry firefighters responded to six fires that escaped from burn barrels or debris burns over the weekend. A trailer home was damaged in one of those fires and a shed was destroyed in another. In one incident, a burn barrel fire escaped and burnt a neighbor’s wooden fence. The homeowner with the burn barrel couldn’t put the fire out because his garden hose was frozen. Forestry firefighters in Tok, meanwhile, were called to extinguish an unpermitted, escaped lawn burn on Sunday in the village of Northway.
There was wildfire activity in western Alaska, also. Two smokejumpers from the BLM Alaska Fire Service were dropped on a fire near the village of Manokotak on Saturday after Alaska State Troopers from Dillingham reported the fire was spreading fast and threatening the village. The two smokejumpers were able to contain the 3.5-acre fire and spent the night mopping up.
On Sunday, troopers reported another wildfire 1 mile south of the Bering Sea coast village of Unalakleet at 2:30 p.m. after a snowmachine caught the tundra on fire. The fire was estimated at 35 acres by the time smokejumpers arrived on scene. Smokejumpers were able to get a line around the fire by 8 p.m. and began mopping up. The fire was officially declared out at noon on Monday and was estimated at 196 acres.
As of Monday morning, there have been a total of 63 fires that have burned a total of 293 acres around the state, according to statistics compiled by the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.