Southwest Alaska Area Fire Information Update – July 21

There are 143 firefighters staffing four fires in Alaska’s Southwest Area. Crews remain in place to defend the Donlin Mine, the Nixon Mine, the community of Red Devil, and cabins along the Kuskokwim River. One new fire was reported smoldering in a limited protection area on Friday.

Forty-one firefighters are being demobilized in the coming days, nearing the end of their 14 to 21 day assignments. MatSu-Southwest Area Assistant Fire Management Officer Seth Ross said he is grateful for all of the hard work crews have put in to protect Alaska’s communities and resources. “For some firefighters, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I really hope they enjoyed their truly unique Alaska experience,” said Ross.

Detection flights and aerial observers are re-mapping fires to update their status and size. Two fixed-wing logistical airplanes and two helicopters are based at the DNR McGrath Fire Base, with an additional helicopter staffing fires near Aniak. Two initial attack helicopter modules with 11 initial attack firefighters and eight smokejumpers are also based in McGrath.

Cooler temperatures are persisting over the Southwest on Sunday, with slightly warmer weather predicted for Monday and Tuesday. No lightning was detected on Saturday. About 490,000 acres have burned across Southwest Alaska this year.

Staffed Fires

The Smith Creek Fire (#534), was started by lightning on July 12, one mile west of the Donlin Mine. The fire has burned into the Peary Creek Fire (#536) and the Timber Creek Fire (#537) to the north. The fire was re-mapped at 12,700-acres, burning in black spruce and threatening structures at the Donlin Mine. One smokejumper and the Dalton Hotshots are in place. Firefighters have utilized heavy equipment on site to create control lines and conduct successful firing operations to defend 80 structures. All but nine mining personnel have been relocated.

The McCally Creek Fire (#487) was started by lightning on July 10 near the community of Red Devil. The fire has merged with the Barometer Mountain Fire (#491) and the Barometer Foothills Fire (#499), totaling 3,079-acres, burning in mixed spruce. The Pioneer Peak Hotshots is in place to protect the community and additional structures across the river. The Idaho State #2 Crew is scheduled to be demobed from the fire today.

The Hidden Creek Fire (#464) was started by lightning on July 9, 20 miles northwest of Nikolai in the area of the Nixon Fork Gold Mine. The 543-acre fire is burning in mixed spruce and hardwoods. Seven smokejumpers and the Bear Divide Hotshots are in place, completing clearing vegetation around structures, setting up pumps, hoselays and sprinkler systems.The mine infrastructure includes an 85-person housing facility, a power plant, mining camp and maintenance buildings. The 17-person Southwest Area Crew #1 is mobilizing to the incident, comprised of firefighters from the villages of Hooper Bay, Shageluk, Nikolai, and Nondalton.

The Kolmakof Hills Fire (#490) was started by lightning on July 10, 20 miles east of Aniak. The fire was re-mapped at 8,267 acres and is being managed with the Aghuluk Fire (#544). Both fires are burning in mixed spruce and threatening cabins along the Kuskokwim River. Three helitak firefighters from the McGrath Fire Base and the Inyo Hotshots are in place, clearing vegetation around area cabins, setting up sprinklers and planning for structure protection and firing operations should they become necessary.

Unstaffed Fires (Selected List – Fires Are Being Monitored by Air)

The Holokuk Ridge Fire (#630) was started by lightning and reported by aerial observers on a detection flight on July 19. The fire is smoldering in black spruce, 50 miles southeast of Aniak, and there are no known values at risk.

The East Fork Fire (#591) started by lightning on July 16, five miles north of Nikolai. The 5-acre fire is burning in white spruce and hardwoods. Five helitak firefighters from Utah and and a 17-person Southwest Area Crew from the villages of Hooper Bay, Nondalton, Nikolai and Shagaluk extinguished the fire and were demobilized on Saturday.

The Old Grouch Top Fire (#174) started by lightning on June 5, about 35 miles northwest of McGrath. The fire has burned 281,774 acres of mixed spruce, tundra and hardwoods, and is not currently threatening cabins that were “plumbed” with sprinkler systems, in the event the fire becomes active in these areas.

The Boulder Creek Fire (#551) started by lightning on July 13, less than a mile northeast of Flat. Six helitak firefighters completed structure protection, aided by a retardant-dropping air tanker. The 7-acre fire was declared controlled, and minimal fire activity was reported.

The Iditarod River Fire (#553) started by lightning on July 14, 12 miles southwest of Flat. It was re-mapped at 301 acres and is smoldering in black spruce, with no known values at risk.

The Aghaluk Creek Fire (#544) started by lightning on July 13, near the Kuskokwim River, 25 miles southwest of Crooked Creek. The fire is being managed with the Kolmakof Hills Fire (#490). McGrath Helitak Crewmembers have provided structure protection by clearing vegetation around a nearby cabin and outbuildings in the areas of both fires.

The Tundra Lake Fire (#474) started by lightning on July 10 and is 50 miles northwest of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, 10 miles south of Lime Village. Eight smokejumpers defended a cabin and a Native Alaskan allotment near the fire, which is 922 acres in size.

The Gemuna Creek Fire (#540) was started by lightning on July 13, six miles northwest of Crooked Creek. The fire is 32 acres in size and smoldering in black spruce and tundra.
No known values are at risk.

The Buckstock River Fire (#543) started by lightning on July 13, 15 miles southeast of Aniak. The fire was re-mapped at 207 acres and is smoldering in tundra. No known values are at risk.

The Peary Creek Fire (#536) was caused by lightning on July 12, 15 miles north of Crooked Creek, and is burning in black spruce. The fire has merged with the Smith Creek Fire (#534) and the Timber Creek Fire (#537), totaling 5,000 acres. No known values are at risk.

The Middle Hoholitna Fire (#532) started by lightning on July 12, 45 miles southwest of Lime Village. The fire is 10 acres in size and smoldering in black spruce. No known values are at risk.

The Hoholitna Fire (#528) started by lightning on July 12, 15 miles south of Stony River. The fire was re-mapped at 394 acres and is smoldering in black spruce and tundra. No known values are at risk.

The East Stoney River Fire (#523) started by lightning on July 12, four miles east of Stoney River. The fire is smoldering in black spruce, hardwoods and tundra, and is 220 acres in size with no known values at risk.

The Snipes Creek Fire (#467) started by lightning on July 9. The fire is smoldering in tundra in the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve and was re-mapped at 148 acres in size. No known values are at risk.

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

The Tishimna Lake Fire (#521) started by lightning on July 12, 25 miles northwest of Lime Village. The 28-acre fire is smoldering in black spruce and tundra with no know values at risk.

The Devils Elbow Fire (#496) started by lightning on July 11, 60 miles south of McGrath. The fire is burning in black spruce and hardwoods and was re-mapped at 7,964 acres. Cabins, Native Alaskan allotments and a sawmill operation were initially threatened, Two helitak firefighters from the McGrath Fire Base completed structure protection at the cabins.

The Holokuk River Fire (#510) started by lightning on July 11, 50 miles southwest of Red Devil. The fire was re-mapped at 209 acres in size and is smoldering in black spruce. No known values are at risk.

The Holokik Mountain Fire (#511) started by lightning on July 11, 25 miles south of Crooked Creek. The fire was re-mapped at three acres and is smoldering in black spruce and tundra within two miles of Native Alaskan allotments.

The Ethel Creek Fire (#516) started by lightning on July 11, 60 miles northwest of Nondalton. The was re-mapped at 91 acres and is smoldering in tundra, with Native Alaskan allotments four miles to the east.

The Discovery Creek Fire (#509) started by lightning on July 11, 25 miles south of Aniak. The 23-acre fire is smoldering in black spruce. The Faulkner Homestead is the closest value at risk.

The Beaver House Hill Fire (#501) started by lightning on July 11, 18 miles southeast of Red Devil. The fire was re-mapped at 1,100 acres and is smoldering in black spruce. No known values are at risk.

The West Devils Elbow Fire (#504) started by lightning on July 11, 20 miles northeast of Red Devil. The fire is 45 acres in size and smoldering in black spruce, with no known values at risk.

The Horn Foothills Fire (#506) started by lightning on July 11, 20 miles southwest of Crooked Creek. The fire is 2,419 acres in size and smoldering in black spruce and tundra. No known values are at risk.

The Little Titnuk Fire (#513) started by lightning on July 11, 18 miles southeast of Red Devil. The fire was re-mapped at 2,678 acres and is smoldering in black spruce, with no known values at risk.

The Door Mountains Fire (#517) started by lightning on July 11, 30 miles southwest of Lime Village. The 4,034-acre fire is smoldering in black spruce with no known values at risk.

The Molybdenum Mountains Fire (#507) started by lightning on July 11, 15 miles northeast of Aniak. The fire is 638 acres in size and smoldering in black spruce and tundra. No known values are at risk.

The Taylor Mountain Fire (#515) started by lightning on July 11, 60 miles south of Red Devil. The fire is smoldering in 1,121 acres of black spruce, five miles south of the Taylor Mountains Mining Camp.

The Pit Peak Fire (#481) was started by lightning on July 10, and is smoldering in black spruce, 35 miles south of Aniak. The fire was re-mapped at 148 acres and no known values are at risk.

The Swift Creek Fire (#480) was started by lightning on July 10 and is smoldering in black spruce, 35 miles south of Aniak. The fire was re-mapped at 520 acres, with no known values at risk.

The Door Creek Fire (#475) was caused by lightning on July 10. The fire is 15 miles southwest of Lime Village, smoldering in black spruce and tundra, and is 792 acres in size. No known values are at risk.

The Stony River Flats Fire (#477) was caused by lightning on July 10. The fire is 12 miles northwest of Lime Village, smoldering in black spruce and tundra, and is 314 acres in size. There is a cabin approximately five miles from the fire with defensible space around it, and it is not threatened at this time.

The Upper Falls Fire (#479) was caused by lightning on July 10. The fire is 12 miles north of the Togiak Wildlife Refuge, burning in tundra and brush, and was re-mapped at 296 acres.
No known values are at risk.

The Quicksilver Creek Fire (#478) was caused by lightning on July 10. The fire is 15 miles north of the Togiak Wildlife Refuge, burning in tundra and brush, and 5 acres in size. No known values are at risk.

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 community. The fire merged with the McCally Creek Fire (#487) and the Barometer Foothills Fire (#499) totaling 3,079 acres.

The Barometer Foothills Fire (#499) was started by lightning on July 11, just southwest of Red Devil. The fire has merged with the McCally Creek Fire (#487) and the Barometer Mountain Fire (#491) for a total of 3,079 acres.

The Jump Peak Fire (#488) was caused by lightning on July 10. The 600-acre fire is smoldering in black spruce and is 307 acres in size, about 7 miles northwest of Red Devil.

The Fuller Creek Fire (#489) was caused by lightning on July 10. The fire is burning in black spruce and tundra, and was re-mapped at 7,903 acres, about 10 miles west of Red Devil.

The Pete Andrews Creek Fire (#457) was reported on July 8, 10 miles west of Iliamna. It is smoldering in black spruce and tundra, and is 2,485 acres in size. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The Page Mountain Fire (#351) was started by lightning on June 22, 30 miles north of McGrath. The 33,786-acre fire is smoldering in mixed spruce. Firefighters have installed sprinklers on six area cabins and also created defensible space around the structures by removing vegetation.

“How Do They Do It? A Closer Look At The Fixed-Wing Ramp and Fuelers in McGrath.”

Fixed-wing aircraft is invaluable when firefighters mobilize and demobilize to and from incidents across Southwest Alaska. Helicopters pluck firefighters and their gear from improved helispots on remote fires, flying them to the nearest airstrip. Then they’re picked up by a single-prop Caravan — an eight-person passenger and cargo plane heavily utilized as logistical aircraft across Alaska.

At the height of fire season in mid-July, three Caravans were assigned to the DNR McGrath Fire Base to shuttle crews and equipment to and from assignments wherever helicopters were impractical. Caravans are also used as aerial reconnaissance and detection aircraft. Smokejumper planes including twin-prop Casas and Dorniers also join the fixed-wing fleet when the
McGrath Fire Base supports smokejumper operational and paracargo re-supply missions.

Pilots depend upon ramp parking tenders and fuelers to keep them moving people and their gear safely across the state, to and from fire assignments. When a pilot contacts dispatch with their time estimated en route (ETE) to landing, the dispatcher radios the ramp parking tender by hand-held radio, giving important information about type of aircraft and identifying the plane’s “tail number.” If the pilot requests fuel, the dispatcher calls a fueler — an independent contractor — and relays the message.

Keeping the ramp free of unnecessary personnel is just one important duty of the ramp manager and parking tenders. When a plane taxis toward the ramp, parking tenders use orange batons to help pilots park their planes in the right place. This position requires a training task book to be fully qualified. The McGrath Fire Base ramp currently has two parking tenders who report to Ramp Manager Camille Magnuson. Ron Chisholm and Magnuson are emergency firefighters (EFF) from McGrath, and Bryon Thompson came from Utah to support the operation.

Once the pilot shuts down the engine(s) and the plane’s propellor(s) come to a stop, the fueler parks the 2,500-gallon fuel truck near the front of the aircraft. Static charges build up in a plane’s fuselage during flight, so the fueler connects a thin steel cable stretching from the fuel truck battery to the cable spool to a hard point on the plane’s wing. This initial connection between the plane and fuel truck — away from any open fuel source — serves as a “grounding” before the hose’s metal fuel nozzle touches the plane’s open fuel port.

Contracted fueler Roberto Mejia says most pilots leave the job of refueling their planes to him. “But sometimes they help me out, and it’s better when the two of us work together.” On busy days, Mejia estimates they use about 1,500 to 1,700 gallons of Jet-A fuel to fill planes — and helicopters at helibase — each day.

Once the fueler disconnects the fuel hose, the plane can be loaded with cargo and boarded by passengers, but not before everything is weighed and manifested. This includes passenger names, weights, gear and equipment weights. The plane’s fuel load weight is input by the pilot, factoring the plane’s allowable or maximum weight capacity for safe flight. Air temperature also plays a role in this calculation — the hotter the air, the less density it has, allowing for less weight to be carried by the aircraft.

Magnuson and her crew say they enjoy their jobs. She especially likes meeting the many people who pass through the McGrath Fire Base Ramp. “I like hearing about where they are coming from, and where they’re going,” she said.

Photos from Top Left: Ramp Manager Camille Magnuson and Dispatcher Christine Harrington discuss a flight plan. McGrath Fire Base Ramp Manager Camille Magnuson manifests a cargo load. Parking Tender Trainee Ron Chisholm Directs Pilot. Fueler Roberto Majia and Pilot Brian Geerdes handle the fuel hose and nozzle. Photos: Mike McMillan — DNR
Fueler Roberto Majia contacts dispatch by radio. Southwest Area Crewmembers unload gear.
Photo: Mike McMillan – DNR
Southwest Area Crewmembers unload gear at the DNR McGrath Fire Base Ramp.
Photo: Mike McMillan – DNR

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