Upper Yukon Zone fuel indices remain at near record levels

The Upper Yukon Flats remains the hottest and driest area of the state. Temperatures in the Upper Yukon zone will remain consistent in the 65 degree to 85 degree range with relative humidities between 35 percent and 45 percent. About 4,100 lightning strikes happened across the state yesterday with most touching down in the central interior. The Upper Yukon Zone continues to be the warmest zone in the state, with the Remote Automatic Weather Station (RAWS) in the village of Beaver recording the highest temperature in Alaska at 85 degrees.

Thirty-eight fires are burning within the Upper Yukon Fire Management Zone; including two new fires. Nine fires are currently staffed. Lightning is not expected to be as active today. Wind should be light today in most areas but is forecast to increase tomorrow. Air quality monitoring equipment will be installed soon at Fort Yukon to provide a local measurement of smoke in the region.

Here is a summary of some of the more significant fires burning in the Yukon Flats and surrounding areas:

Chalkyitsik Complex – #466 (Tractor Trail 2 – #348, Frozen Calf Fire – #367, Bearnose Hill Fire – #407, and Tettjajik Creek #424) – 305,256 acres – 268 personnel are assigned to the complex

A firehose lays coiled and ready to use at a cabin along the Draanjik River on Monday afternoon, July 15, 2019. Brush has been cleared and the trees have had their lower limbs removed. By removing the limbs close to the ground this prevents fire from using them as ladder fuels and climbing into the crowns of trees. This is an example of the point protection work being done on the Chalkyitsik Complex. Sam Harrel/Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team

The fires of the Chalkyitsik Complex were very active. Light and variable winds kept the area blanketed in smoke, only clearing moderately during the middle of the day, but smoky conditions returned by the evening. After several days of little activity and no growth, the Tettjajik Creek Fire (#424) was burning and growing slowly on the southeast corner. On the Frozen Calf Fire (#367), the southwest corner was again actively backing and flanking into the wind, south toward the Black River corridor. The north flank also was active with good rates of spread to the north toward the Porcupine River. Herbert Village, on the north side of the Porcupine, is a little over five miles away. The Bearnose Hill Fire (#407) was active in a number of areas on the north flank, spreading with the prevailing southwest wind. There was also some continued backing on the south flank but not as extensive as yesterday. The Tractor Trail 2 Fire (#348) continued to be active on the north and east flanks which experienced wind-driven runs. There were also some very large stands of black spruce that burned on the west side of the fire. The Bearnose Hill and Tractor Trail 2 fires have merged in the Little Black River corridor along a six-mile stretch.

Map shows the progression of fire on the Chalkyitsik complex, July 17, 2019. For a pdf version of the map, click here.
Map shows the progression of fire on the Chalkyitsik complex, July 17, 2019. For a pdf version of the map, click here.

The Tractor Trail 2 Fire exhibited extreme fire behavior on Sunday as southwest winds pushed the fire northeast into the Little Black River corridor. The advancing fire destroyed two adjacent structures on the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Fire managers on Sunday requested Air Attack and two Fire Boss water scooping aircraft to respond. Conditions were extremely smoky and pilots were unable to see the structure site to deliver water drops.

Two additional attempts made on Sunday to fly helicopters with firefighters to the cabins were also thwarted by smoky conditions with minimum visibility and it was unsafe to land. The Fish and Wildlife Service has contacted the permitted users of the structures.

Alaska Smokejumper Jarrod MacArthur walks past a cabin Monday afternoon, July 15, 2019, on the Draanjik River that has been setup with a structure protection system. Firefighters clear brush and trees before setting up a pump and hose lay with sprinklers. The sprinklers are on tall stands to cover a broader area in addition to adding moisture to the air. As the main fire approaches, firefighters may intentionally light the edges of their cleared area to burn toward the advancing flames. This burnout operation removes the fuel ahead of the fire and slows its advance. With the sprinklers running, firefighters with hoses and nozzles will extinguish any spot fires. Cabin and homeowners should always keep the brush and trees clear from around their homes. This makes it much easier for firefighters to protect. Sam Harrel/Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team

The village of Chalkyitsik, Chahalie Lake and cabin sites up the Draanjik River as far as Nelson Bluff are prepped and plumbed with sprinklers. Crews have also prepped Herbert Village on the Porcupine River. Firefighters are looking up river beyond Nelson Bluff, assisted by high resolution imaging aircraft, to identify other areas that may need site protection should the east end of Frozen Calf Fire becomes active.

Work continues outside of Chalkyitsik on indirect lines, one that extends south from the village to Ohtig Lake and the other about six-miles to the northeast of the village. Plans for strategic firing operations along both of these lines will remove thick areas of black spruce. Construction of these lines is expected to be complete by Thursday. Firing will be conducted when conditions are suitable.

Map of the Chalkyitsik Complex fires, July 17, 2019. For a pdf version of the map, click here.
Map of the Chalkyitsik Complex fires, July 17, 2019. For a pdf version of the map, click here.

KZPA 900 AM radio in Fort Yukon is airing information updates about the Chalkyitsik Complex of fires daily at 12:50 pm.

A Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) is in place over Chalkyitsik and some of the surrounding area to provide a safe operating environment for firefighting aircraft. Go to https://tfr.faa.gov for more information on the TFR.

Hadweenzic River Fire (#337) – 49,636 acres, 64 personnel

Another day of warm temperatures continues to keep fuel indices in the high to very high category. This means fuels dry out in advance of the fire, keeping fire spread continuing east, about ½ mile from the Chandalar River. Portions of unburned fuels inside the fire perimeter burned as weather determined the rate of fire spread. Crews made great progress on preparing and plumbing hose lines around allotments to provide protection against potential fire activity. Firefighters are working to further develop fuel break lines alongside natural barriers to protect against fire progression. Today, additional crew resources will allow the incident management team to make further progress on protection objectives. The Hadweenzic River Fire is burning approximately 6 1/2 miles northeast from Nahshii Bible Camp and approximately 20 miles west of Fort Yukon.

Map of fires currently burning in the Upper Yukon Zone, July 17, 2019. For a pdf of the map, click here.
Map of fires currently burning in the Upper Yukon Zone, July 17, 2019.  For a pdf of the map, click here.

Tony Slough Fire (#493) – 1,526 acres, 54 personnel

As the Upper Yukon Zone added yet another day of temperatures in the eighties, fire behavior was moderate once again. Temperatures will be similar today, with potential for wind gusts in the Upper Yukon Zone. Crews observed the fire continuing to work through established black spruce to the north and east, with the fire estimated just over 1,500 acres. With the recent addition of crews, personnel made good progress on protection measures of cabins located on allotments. Providing protection to structures and the village of Beaver remains the top priority. The fire is burning about eight miles northeast of Beaver.

Chandalar River Fire (#349) – 9,108 acres, 69 personnel

If conditions allow, firefighters plan to start a burnout operation today to protect allotments that are about 1 mile from the northern edge of the fire perimeter after days of hard work putting in fireline. The start of the burnout operation is dependent on wind and weather conditions and is expected to increase smoke. The fire is about 1 mile southwest of Venetie, with the Chandalar River serving as a natural barrier between the fire and the community.

East Fork Chandalar Fire (#572) – 20 acres, 16 personnel

The lightning-sparked East Fork Chandalar Fire, burning 26 miles northwest of Venetie, was detected Monday afternoon by an infrared-equipped satellite. It is burning mainly in tundra with stringers of spruce. This is a full suppression fire due to its proximity to allotments. 16 smokejumpers, a lead plane, three large air tankers and four small amphibious water scooping planes known as fire bosses carried out the initial attack. Additional firefighters arrived Tuesday, with more slated to join firefighting efforts in the coming days, allowing smokejumpers to come off the fireline for rest or reassignment.

Myrtle Creek Fire (#588) – 3 acres, 4 personnel; Slate Creek Fire (#559) – .3 acres, 4 personnel

The Myrtle Creek and Slate Creek fires were declared controlled and out Tuesday night. Both fires were reported Monday – one about 13 miles south of Wiseman, the other 6 miles east of Coldfoot. The two fires were a tenth of a mile apart. Crews assigned to these fires are coming off the fireline today for rest or reassignment to other fires. This will be the last update for these two fires.

Multiple sources of information on smoke are located on the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center Air Quality web page.

For more information, contact the Alaska Interagency Fire Information Office at (907) 356-5511 or email 2019.AFS.FIRES@gmail.com

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