The Alaska Division of Forestry is monitoring several hot spots from last summer’s Deshka Landing Fire near Willow that have been reported over the course of the winter. The first reports of smoke and smoldering were provided by trail groomers in January and DOF has received additional reports of smoke and smoldering in the same area.
Two DOF firefighters from the Mat-Su Area Forestry office accessed the area on snowmachines on March 27 and found multiple hot spots smoldering well within the interior of the fire perimeter near Rolly Creek. The firefighters identified more than a dozen hot spots strung together in one area. All the hot spots were surrounded by 3 feet of snow and were smoldering in peat and slash.
Mat-Su Area staff will continue to monitor the area and check it once more by snowmachine in the next week or two (snow conditions permitting). Staff will continue to monitor the area during spring breakup and determine if there is a need to take action. The decision to pull firefighters out of the area last summer was due to significant hazards in the form of numerous, deep ash pits in the area and the fact rain had moderated fire danger. With the added hazard of 2 to 3 feet of snow hiding the ash pits, the decision was made to continue monitoring the hot spots.
With large, deep burning fires such as Alaska experienced last year, it is not unusual for portions of fires to “overwinter,” resulting in visible smoke the next fire season. Firefighters refer to these types of ignitions as holdover fires. Given the depth of burning on fires around the state last year due to historic drought conditions, the Division of Forestry and other wildfire suppression agencies in Alaska are anticipating holdover fires to pop up this season.
The public should expect to see smoke from some, if not all of the larger incidents from the 2019 fire season during the summer of 2020. This includes fires in the Mat-Su Valley, Interior and in Southwest Alaska. These fires will be treated like any other wildfire – the danger will be assessed from the ground or air to determine if the fire poses a threat of escaping the fire perimeter and action should be taken or if the area poses a too great a risk to firefighters. In the latter case, the fire would be monitored. As always in wildland firefighting, the number one objective is firefighter and public safety
Alaska’s wildfire suppression agencies have been preplanning for holdover fires since the fall of 2019. Fire Management Officials from the Alaska Division of Forestry, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Chugach National Forest, (USFS) met with the final Incident Management Team on the Swan Lake Fire in early October 2019 to identify areas of the fire that were still holding heat. Those areas were mapped, and the map will be used as a tool by Fire Managers to determine when and where firefighting personnel and apparatus will focus their patrol efforts to help prevent further fire escapement. Those patrolling and monitoring efforts will begin once the snow has all melted off and will continue into the summer months.
If members of the public see smoke or flames in the area of 2019 wildfires, they should avoid the area and report it to their local forestry office or fire department as soon as possible. Do not approach the area, as there may be ash pits that are still smoldering and could pose a danger to anyone who steps or falls into one.