Southwest Alaska Area Fires Get Rain, Keep Growing

Firefighters are staffing four fires in Southwest Alaska, defending two gold mines and multiple structures at the sites, as well as the village of Red Devil and the historic town of Flat.

The Division of Forestry reported one new fire Sunday for a total of 64 active fires in Southwest Alaska. Despite widespread showers across the area, aerial observers on detection flights reported significant growth on several fires, and there were about 1,000 lightning strikes.

The DNR McGrath Field Office is feeding, housing and mobilizing fire crews and supplies to new and established fires. Pumps, hose, sprinkler kits, food, water and fuel are being delivered by fixed-wing airplanes and helicopters to firefighters in the field. Smoke has dissipated in most areas, enabling delivery of more crews and supplies where they are most needed.

Smokejumpers Inspect a Parachute at the McGrath Field Office. Photo: Mike McMillan – Alaska Division of Forestry.
Alaska Smokejumper Spotter Matt Allen Prepares a Load of Eight Smokejumpers for a Fire Call from McGrath. Photo by Mike McMillan – Alaska Division of Forestry.

Staffed Fires

The Smith Creek Fire (#534), formerly the Grouse Creek Fire, started by lightning on July 12, 13 miles northwest of Crooked Creek. The fire is 300 acres in size and 100% active in black spruce, threatening structures at the Donlin Mine. Non-essential mine personnel are relocating. The 20-person Dalton Hotshot Crew is in place to provide structure protection.

The McCally Creek Fire (#487) started by lightning on July 10 and is threatening the village of Red Devil. Eight smokejumpers initially staffed the fire before disengaging and relocating to the village. A total of 35 firefighters are in place at Red Devil. The Pioneer Peak Hotshots and the Inyo Hotshots are mobilizing to the fire today to assist in structure protection and burning operations to defend the village.

The Hidden Creek Fire (#464) began on July 9 and is 20 miles northwest of Nikolai in the area of the Nixon Fork Gold Mine. Seven smokejumpers and the 20-person Bear Divide Hotshot Crew are in place at the mine, setting up pumps, hoselays and sprinkler systems on area structures, which have not been impacted by the fire. The 300-acre fire is burning in mixed spruce and hardwoods, and the cause is under investigation.

The Boulder Creek Fire (#551) started by lightning on July 13, less than a mile northeast of Flat. Seven smokejumpers mobilized to the 7-acre fire to provide structure protection, aided by a retardant-dropping air tanker. Six helitak firefighters are mobilizing to the incident on Sunday. Uninhabited today, Flat is where aviating pioneer Wiley Post stopped on his around-the-world trip in 1933. Post crashed his plane on take-off, but locals in Flat helped him fix a broken propeller, enabling him to complete his historic trip in eight days.

California’s Bear Divide Hotshots Heading to the Hidden Creek Fire and the Nixon Mine. Photo by Mike McMillan – Alaska Division of Forestry.

Unstaffed Fires

The Iditarod River Fire (#553) started by lightning on July 14, 12 miles southwest of Flat. It is burning 600 acres and is 100% active in black spruce, with no known values in the area at risk. The fire will be monitored by air.

The Hurst Creek Fire (#352) started by lightning on June 22, and burned into the Old Grouch Top Fire (#174), another lightning-caused fire that started on June 5. Both fires are now being managed as the Old Grouch Top Fire, about 35 miles northwest of McGrath. The unstaffed fire has burned 251,811 acres of mixed spruce, tundra and hardwoods, and is the largest fire in the country. It is being monitored by aircraft.

The Aghaluk Creek Fire (#544) was started by lightning on July 13, near the Kuskokwim River, 25 miles southwest of Crooked Creek. The fire is 1,000 acres in black spruce and tundra. A five-member helitak crew from McGrath provided structure protection on a nearby cabin and outbuildings, and the fire is now unstaffed.

The Snipes Creek Fire (#467) was started by lightning on July 9. The unstaffed fire is burning in tundra in the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, and 20 acres in size. No known values are at risk, and the fire is being monitored by aircraft.

The Chilchitna Headwaters Fire (#476) is burning in black spruce, 12 miles northwest of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, and 250 acres in size No known values are at risk, and the fire is being monitored by aircraft.

The Tundra Lake Fire (#474) started by lightning on July 10 and is 50 miles northwest of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, about 10 miles south of Lime Village. Eight smokejumpers defended a cabin and a Native Alaskan allotment near the fire and demobilized on Saturday. The unstaffed fire is 450 acres in size and 90% active.

The Devil’s Elbow Fire (#496) started by lightning on July 11, 60 miles south of McGrath. The fire is burning in black spruce and hardwoods and is estimated to be 7,500 acres. Cabins, Native Alaskan allotments and a sawmill operation are threatened, and two helitak firefighters from McGrath established structure protection at the cabins. The fire is now unstaffed.

The Hoholitna Fire (#528) was started by lightning on July 12, 15 miles south of Stony River. The unstaffed fire is 80 acres in size and 100% active in black spruce and tundra. No known values are at risk and the fire will be monitored by air.

The Diamond Peak Fire (#527) was started by lightning on July 12, 15 miles west of Lime Village. The unstaffed fire is two acres in size, and 30% active in black spruce and tundra. No known values are at risk and the fire will be monitored by air.

The Vreeland Creek Fire (#525) was started by lightning on July 12, 15 miles southwest of Red Devil. No additional information is available for the unstaffed fire.

The East Stoney River Fire (#523) was started by lightning on July 12, four miles east of Stoney River. The unstaffed fire is burning in black spruce, hardwoods and tundra and is 5 acres in size.

The Tishimna Lake Fire (#521) was started by lightning on July 12, 25 miles northwest of Lime Village. The 14-acre unstaffed fire is 10% active, burning in black spruce and tundra.

The Holokuk River Fire (#510) was started by lightning on July 11, 50 miles southwest of Red Devil. The unstaffed fire is 325 acres in size and 10% active in black spruce. No known values are at risk and the fire will be monitored by air.

The Holokik Mountain Fire (#511) was started by lightning on July 11, 25 miles south of Crooked Creek. The unstaffed fire is burning 25 acres of black spruce and tundra, within two miles of Native Alaskan allotments. The fire will be monitored by air.

The Ethel Creek Fire (#516) was started by lightning on July 11, 60 miles northwest of Nondalton. The unstaffed fire is burning 48 acres in tundra, with Native Alaskan allotments four miles to the east. The fire will be monitored by air.

The Discovery Creek Fire (#509) was started by lightning on July 11, 25 miles south of Aniak. The unstaffed fire is burning in black spruce, and the Faulkner Homestead is the closest value at risk. The fire will be monitored by air.

The Beaver House Hill Fire (#501) was started by lightning on July 11, 18 miles southeast of Red Devil. The unstaffed fire is burning 5 acres in black spruce and threatening a Native Alaskan allotment. The fire will be monitored by air.

The Taylor Mountain Fire (#515) was started by lightning on July 11, 60 miles south of Red Devil. The unstaffed fire is 100% active in 350 acres of black spruce, five miles south of the Taylor Mountains Mining Camp. The fire will be monitored by air.

The Stony River Flats Fire (#477) was caused by lightning on July 10. The unstaffed fire is 12 miles northwest of Lime Village, burning in black spruce and tundra, 150 acres in size and 80% active. There is a cabin approximately five miles from the fire with defensible space around it, and it is not threatened at this time, and the fire is being monitored by aircraft.

The Barometer Mountain Fire (#491) was caused by lightning on July 10. Eight smokejumpers mobilized to the fire before relocating to Red Devil to protect the village. The fire is burning in tundra and black spruce, about one mile southwest of Red Devil.

The Barometer Foothills Fire (#499) was started by lightning on July 11, within a mile southwest of Red Devil. The 30-acre fire is one of three fires near Red Devil, and fire managers retrieved smokejumpers from other area fires to help defend the village.

The Jump Peak Fire (#488) was caused by lightning on July 10. The unstaffed fire is smoldering in black spruce, less than an acre in size, approximately 7 miles northwest of Red Devil, and the fire is being monitored by aircraft.

The Fuller Creek Fire (#489) was caused by lightning on July 10. The unstaffed fire is burning in black spruce and tundra, 9,000 acres in size, located approximately 10 miles west of Red Devil, and the fire is being monitored by aircraft.

The Pete Andrews Creek Fire (#457) was reported July 8, 10 miles west of Illiamna. Air tankers dropped retardant on the 1,300-acre fire to slow its progress. The fire is being monitored by air.

The Page Mountain Fire (#351) was started by lightning on June 22, 30 miles north of McGrath. The 31,150-acre unstaffed fire is smoldering in mixed spruce, and firefighters have installed sprinklers on six area cabins and improved their defensible space.

How Do They Do It? A Closer Look at the Warehouse & Supply Unit in McGrath, Alaska

The Supply Unit and Warehouse at the Division of Forestry McGrath Field Office is working hard to keep firefighters in the field re-supplied with everything they need to do their jobs.

McGrath Supply Unit Leader Amy Chisholm estimates she and her crew of five emergency firefighters (EFF) in the warehouse have packaged, boxed and wrapped about 30,000 pounds of equipment to deliver to area fires. This does not include large orders of palletized supplies that can be flown directly from Palmer to fires with nearby airstrips.

Chisholm says one-mile hose kits, Mark III pumps, chainsaws, folding tanks and sprinklers remain in high demand, and the McGrath Warehouse is meeting those needs. “At one point the entire state was out of critical equipment, so we had to relay orders to the Great Basin,” said Chisholm, who began working in the warehouse in 1991. Her career started on an Alaska EFF Crew in 1987, so she knows what it’s like to be a firefighter in the field, needing supplies.

That experience prepared her well to become a receiving and distribution manager, ordering manager and supply unit leader. “I help people accept that things can change by the minute,” she said. Chisholm relies on her crew to make important decisions and keep the numbers straight. “Rochelle Vanderpool is great with numbers, and Gary Egrass is a strong distribution and receiving manager too. This is the best crew we’ve had in a very long time. They’ve picked it up really fast,” she said smiling.

The McGrath Field Office Warehouse Crew Prepares an Order of Equipment.
Photo by Mike McMillan – Alaska Division of Forestry.

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