BLM Fort Yukon Station provides vital support during busy season

Sign outside BLM Fort Yukon Station

In late July, the BLM Fort Yukon Fire Station was a blur of comings and goings. 

Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft landed and unloaded their cargo and passengers, before loading up and flying off again. The morning smoke was chased out by the afternoon breezes. Hotshot crews and smokejumpers, hoses and pumps, food and miscellaneous supplies—all that and more passed through the Fort Yukon station on a typical day.

The Fort Yukon helibase
Loading up for a flight out.

The station has long been an essential hub to support fire management activities in Alaska’s Interior.  And with so many fires burning this year in the Upper Yukon, the station has been very busy. Pilots and a rappelling crew stood by, waiting to be dispatched to new fires. Firefighters who had finished their two weeks on the fire line waited for their flights home.

The main building at the Fort Yukon Fire Station
From Left: Fort Yukon warehouse lead Elliot Crefley of Fairbanks and warehouse staff Scott Thomas and Joe Peter of Fort Yukon. Not pictured: Danny Keomany. The warehouse works closely with aviation and helicopter crews to supply the firefighters with the equipment they need.

For those who staff the station and support all that activity, work days are long.  With the 77 fires in the Alaska Fire Service Upper Yukon Zone this summer, activity at the station quickly moved into high gear. The Fort Yukon warehouse staff shuttled tons of cargo to and from aircraft and the warehouse – as much as 20,000 pounds in one day.

“Things ramp up quickly here,” said warehouse worker Danny Keomany. “It takes off like a rocket.” 

The kitchen staff stays busy, serving up three meals a day, with the number of people served changing daily. Station cook Annie Peters of Fort Yukon handles all the changes with flexibility and good humor.

 “I get along with everybody and everybody gets along with me,” she said with a smile.

From left: Laura Fischer of Fairbanks, and Annie Peter and Ruth Peterson of Fort Yukon. Not pictured: Billy Burke. From the station’s modest kitchen, the kitchen crew makes three meals each day for dozens of people. The number of people served each day can vary dramatically, depending upon the amount traffic at the station.

All this hustle and bustle takes place in and around a cluster of buildings tucked amid birch, aspen, and spruce trees at the Fort Yukon Airport. The station was established in 1955. 

Camping area for those who work at the station.

It closes down at the end of each fire season and is reopened in the spring.  When Alaska Fire Service staff return, there are maintenance tasks typically needed after the long arctic winter.   One of the springtime tasks is the re-installation of a plaque on a small monument honoring former smokejumper Eldo Swift, who was instrumental in establishing the helibase.

Helibase monument to Eldo Smith

Despite all the activity, it’s a peaceful setting as sand hill cranes call from overhead and a fox visits the airstrip. Out on the ramp, Carol Adam, an Air Tanker Base Manager from Battle Mountain, Nevada takes it all in. 

“This is not a typical assignment,” said Adam, who directs planes to parking spots with Joe Carter, a parking tender trainee from Roseburg, Oregon.

Carter agrees.

“All of the pilots are upbeat.  Attitudes are great.” he said.

Adam loves the job and the sense of camaraderie among those who work at the station.

“It’s a great community,” she said. “It quickly becomes family.”

From left: Joe Carter of Roseburg, Oregon and Carol Adam of Battle Mountain, Nevada.

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