Southwest Alaska Area Fire Information Update – July 28

Isolated showers visited Southwest Alaska on Sunday and are expected to continue into next week. Several fires have recorded little to no rain. There are 64 active fires, and no new fires were reported. Five fires remain staffed to protect the villages of Nikolai and Red Devil, the Donlin Mine, the Nixon Mine, and allotments and cabins along the Kuskokwim River.

Moisture levels in fine fuels including grass and the top layers of tundra remain high, while lower duff levels remain dry in many areas, increasing the amount of time it takes to completely extinguish fires. Helitak modules and hand crews from Alaskan communities and the lower 48 states are mobilizing between existing fires as needed.

Two fixed-wing logistical airplanes, three helicopters, and five initial attack (IA) helitak firefighters remain on station at the DNR McGrath Fire Base and are ready to respond to threats from existing fires and new starts. 427,183 acres have burned in Southwest Alaska this year, and 2.1 million total acres have burned across the state in 2019.

The Southwest Alaska Area Fire Information Update will continue listing the current status of new and staffed fires and information about the mobilization and demobilization of crews. To see the status of unstaffed fires, go to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center’s Situation Report at https://fire.ak.blm.gov. A public information officer can be reached at (907) 301-0971.

Staffed Fires

The Medicine Creek Fire (#673) was started by lightning on July 23, five miles northwest of Medfra. The eight-acre fire is burning in black spruce and tundra. Five helitak crewmembers from Utah, five helitak firefighters from McGrath, and ten firefighters from Southwest Area remote communities are in place and extinguishing the fire. The fire has received heavy rain.

The Lost Jack Lake Fire (#662), initially named the Salmonberry Fire, started by lightning on July 23, three miles north of Nikolai. The 10-person Mammoth Wildland Fire Module and the 20-person Southwest Area Crew #2 comprised of firefighters from Hooper Bay, Scammon Bay and Chevak are assigned to this fire and are close to reaching control objectives. The fire has received heavy rain.

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 combined fires total 67,273 acres, burning in black spruce and threatening structures at the Donlin Mine. A 10-person fire module from Cascade, Idaho is in place. Firefighters have utilized heavy equipment on site to create control lines and conducted successful firing operations to defend 80 structures and an access road to drilling operations. Firefighters are mopping-up around structures. Managers of the mine have suspended operations and removed remaining personnel in order to accommodate firefighting operations.

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 3,097-acres, burning in mixed spruce. The Pioneer Peak Hotshots are in place to protect the community and additional structures across the Kuskokwim River. Several Native Allotments in the area have also been identified for protection.

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 1,100-acre fire is burning in mixed spruce and hardwoods. The incident commander and ten Southwest Area Crew #1 from the communities of Hooper Bay, Shageluk, Nikolai, and Nondalton are in place.

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

The Kolmakof Hills Fire (#490) was started by lightning on July 10, 20 miles east of Aniak. The fire was re-mapped at 9,573 acres and is being managed with the Aghuluk Fire (#544), mapped at 1,332 acres in size. Both fires were threatening cabins along the Kuskokwim River. One smokejumper, one helicopter and four helitak firefighters from the DNR McGrath Helibase and the Inyo Hotshots have finished clearing vegetation around structures and setting up sprinklers, and were demobilized from the fire by helicopter on Saturday.

The Weasel Creek Fire (#679) was started by lightning on July 24, 30 miles southwest of Whitefish Lake. It is 200 acres in size and smoldering in black spruce and tundra. No known values are at risk.

The Takotna Fire (#665) started by lightning on July 23, one mile east of Takotna. The fire is burning in black spruce and seven acres in size. No known values are at risk.

The Jump Peak Fire (#488) was caused by lightning on July 10. The 600-acre fire is smoldering in black spruce and is 687 acres in size, about 7 miles northwest of Red Devil. A helitak module assessed an allotment for protection in the vicinity of the fire but took no further action.

The Boss Creek Fire (#667) was started by lightning on July 23, 45 miles southwest of Crooked Creek. The fire is estimated at 43-acres and no known values are at risk.

The Tonklonukna Creek Fire (#655) started by lightning last week and went undetected until it became active on July 22. It is burning in black spruce and tundra and is seven acres in size. A Native Alaskan allotment is located three miles to the southwest of the fire.

The Holokuk Ridge Fire (#630) was started by lightning and reported by aerial observers on a detection flight on July 19. The 447-acre fire is smoldering in black spruce, 50 miles southeast of Aniak, and there are no known values at risk.

The Old Grouch Top Fire (#174) started by lightning on June 5, about 35 miles northwest of McGrath. The fire has burned 307,969 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 Iditarod River Fire (#553) started by lightning on July 14, 12 miles southwest of Flat. It was re-mapped at 410 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 1,332 acres in size and 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 1,051 acres in size.

The Gemuna Creek Fire (#540) was started by lightning on July 13, six miles northwest of Crooked Creek. The fire is 288 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 446 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 6,499 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 548 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 353 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 265 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 304 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 29-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 8,115 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 228 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 220 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 420 acres and is smoldering in black spruce. No known values are at risk.

The Horn Foothills Fire (#506) started by lightning on July 11, 20 miles southwest of Crooked Creek. The fire is 3,874 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 2,965 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 658 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 149 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 528 acres, with no 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 796 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 371 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 297 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 3,097 acres.

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 7,949 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 5,484 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 46,896-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 Incident Command System (ICS) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Mcgrath Fire Base.”

The Laguna Fire of 1970 scorched more than 175,000 acres east of San Diego, California, killing 16 people and costing taxpayers $234 million. Resulting studies of the Laguna Fire and other catastrophic fires found that failures in communications and management — not a lack of resources or the tactical efforts of firefighters and first responders — were largely at fault. The lack of accountability and a clear “chain of command” were cited as primary deficiencies.

Today the Incident Command System (ICS) is a central component of emergency response efforts for “all-risk” incidents, including wildfires, terrorist attacks, and environmental disasters. The ICS is also utilized for planned events such as presidential inaugurations and Super Bowls.

The level of emergency management response allocated for any incident depends upon the scope, size and complexity of the incident. A Type 1 incident and corresponding Incident Management Team Type 1 manages the most complex incidents, while Type 5 incidents don’t require a pre-set IMT— just an IC and those positions needed for operations and support.

The strength of the ICS is its structure. Starting from the top, the incident commander (IC) is responsible and accountable for every person and every piece of equipment assigned to an incident. If this sounds daunting, the IC has plenty of help. The IC’s command staff includes the safety officer, a liaison officer who interfaces with area agency representatives and local “cooperators,” and a public information officer who communicates the IC’s intent, strategy, tactics, current status of the incident and special messages to the public and media. All remaining positions are part of the general staff, and divided into branches, divisions, groups, sections and units, depending upon the complexity of the incident.

F.L.O.P may not sound flattering, but it can be a helpful acronym to remember and understand the basic structure of the general staff.

“F” is for finance – managing costs, compensation and claims, and procurement – also known as a “buying team.”

“L” is for logistics – managing service and support functions including communications, medical, and food units, and supplies, facilities, and ground support — maintaining vehicles, equipment inspection and repair, and transportation of firefighters to and from incidents.

“O” is for operations – divided into separate branches for ground operations and air operations — responsible for air attack (reconnaissance and airspace management), air tanker operations, helicopter operations, and unmanned aerial systems (drones utilized for image gathering and tactical operations). On the ground, division supervisors manage strike teams – resources of the same kind (fire engines or “hand crews” including “hotshot crews” – 20 person teams using chainsaws, pulaskis and scraping tools) and task forces – resources of mixed types designated for the same task – for example, defending a subdivision of homes. Single-resources include entire crews, or individuals including specialists such as field observers.

“P” is for planning – managing the demobilization and check-in of firefighters and equipment, documentation (record keeping of all incident forms), resources (tracking location and the status of resources working on the incident, and producing the incident action plan (IAP) – a daily document listing resource assignments, weather forecasts, radio frequencies, and safety information. The planning section also manages the situation unit, responsible for generating accurate maps, weather forecasts and gathering intel from field observers and operations.

At the DNR McGrath Fire Base, every lead position and basic service listed above is being performed by ten permanent seasonal employees and a collection of emergency firefighters (EFF) and administratively determined (AD) contracted specialists. As operations in the field expand and contract, and fire activity grows and slows, the organizational structure of the ICS in place at the DNR McGrath Fire Base also “ramps-up” or “scales-back”.

The DNR MatSu-Southwest Area manages 88 million acres and encompasses the DNR McGrath Fire Base, a forward-operating wildland firefighting facility employing specialists from the local area and well beyond. “I like to keep it lean when I can,” said Seth Ross, Assistant Fire Management Officer (AFMO) of the MatSu-Southwest Alaska Area.

Now is one of those times when “leaner” is most operationally and cost-effective. On Monday, fifteen members of the DNR support staff — having reached the end of two-three week assignments — will be released to their home units, some traveling great distances. These include planning and situation specialists, timekeepers, logistical support including a fueler, and a public information officer from Boise, Idaho.

My name is Mike McMillan. I’ve served as an (AD) public information officer for the Southwest Alaska Area at the DNR McGrath Fire Base since July 12. I’ve benefited greatly from the knowledge of the staff surrounding me in our office, located right next to dispatch. As I write these updates, I ask many questions and they answer them. My 31 wildfire seasons — 17 as an Alaska Smokejumper — are invaluable to me as a PIO, as well as my single-resource qualifications as a task force leader — and my photography. I first visited McGrath in the late 1990’s. I genuinely care about the residents of McGrath, the surrounding communities and Native Alaskan Villages. If I’m fortunate I will be back again. Thank you for this glorious opportunity.

Southwest Alaska Area Firefighters Prepare to Mobilize to the Lost Jack Fire Near Nikolai. Photo: Mike McMillan – DNR
Emergency Firefighter (EFF) Adam Nikolai Fills Five-Gallon Cubees At the DNR McGrath Fire Base Warehouse. Photo: Mike McMillan – DNR
DNR McGrath Fire Base Unit Aviation Supervisor Matt Snyder Walks Through the Housing Unit Forest at the DNR McGrath Fire Base. Photo: Mike McMillan – DNR
Fireweed In Bloom Near the DNR McGrath Fire Base Aircraft Ramp.
Photo: Mike McMillan – DNR


Categories: AK Fire Info

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