Widespread smoke challenged firefighters yesterday by limiting their use of aircraft and making fuels less conducive to burnout operations. Fires are still growing in size, but at a slower rate than that seen over the past few days. Firefighting resources remain stretched thin in the Upper Yukon Fire Management Zone, which covers the eastern Interior, as crews and equipment are in high demand across the state.
Fire meteorologists are predicting the possibility of dry lightning across the state for the next two days. New fire starts may impact existing fire operations, with initial attack on new fires drawing firefighting resources from existing fires and limiting the availability of aircraft.
Twenty-five fires are burning within the Upper Yukon Fire Management Zone, including one new start. Six fires are staffed. Here is a breakdown of the fires of most interest burning in the Yukon Flats and surrounding areas:
Chalkyitsik Complex – The area that includes the complex is totally smoked in at this time. Light winds are starting to occur, and the forecast hold the possibility of some clearing. Several elders who are sensitive to smoke are leaving the area. The Type 3 Incident Management Organization continues to set up at the Chalkyitsik school. These firefighters are managing the Bearnose Hill Fire (#407) and Frozen Calf (#367) fires. Crews at this time are relocating some equipment to the lake area 4 miles south of Chalkyitsik to be prepared in case fire does move through the area in the next several days. Crews have removed vegetation and set up pumps and hoses around five cabins in the area, and have several more cabins to complete. Firefighters may conduct burnout operations around cabins and allotments if conditions allow. The most recent mapping for the fire was on July 7. Fire #407 was at that time estimated at 36,344 acres, while Fire #367 was estimated at 110,000 acres, with active to moderate spread and active burning in the interior of the fire.
Yukon Charley Fire (#217) – Smoke is limiting visibility in the area, particularly on the western half of the fire. The fire is growing towards the south and southeast, approaching the bottom of the Weshrinarin drainage. Firefighters continue to assess and plan for allotment protection by clearing vegetation and installing pumps and hoses. Firefighters plan to complete their work on Yukon-Charley Fire (#217) and then cross the Yukon River to work on the Biederman Bluff Fire (#392). That fire is estimated at 1,049 acres, with the last mapping on July 8.
Hadweenzic River Fire (#337) – The Mad River Interagency Hotshot Crew has arrived at the fire to assist with fire management operations. The fire behavior was reported as burning in the treetops with short-range spotting, backing and flanking. Smoke reduced visibility and limited aviation. Current acreage is estimated at 34,844. Firefighters are protecting 30 members of the public, including those at a nearby bible camp. Emergency evacuation plans have been made. Fire crews are continuing to locate and evaluate protection needs for cabins and other nearby structures.
Chandalar River Fire (#349) – The Modoc Interagency Hotshot Crew arrived today to assist with the incident. Firefighters attempted a burnout operation to secure firelines but had to halt it as dense smoke and higher relative humidity in the afternoon made conditions less favorable for a complete burn. Crews will try again when conditions allow. Firefighters continue to work on containment lines and laying hose. The fire was estimated at 7,892 acres when it was last mapped on July 8.
Several sources of smoke information can be found on the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center’s Air Quality web page at https://fire.ak.blm.gov/predsvcs/airquality.php.
For more information on these and other fires in Alaska, contact the Alaska Interagency Fire Information Office at (907) 356-5511 or email 2019.AFS.FIRES@gmail.com.