The Alaska Division of Forestry’s Mat-Su Area office continues to monitor multiple hot spots that overwintered inside the perimeter of the 2019 Deshka Landing Fire near the Nancy Lake Recreation Area south of Willow.
Two Mat-Su Area wildland fire technicians checked the area via snowmachine on Friday, April 17 and found 11 small hot spots still smoldering and putting up visible smoke near Rolly Creek in the area known as Willow Swamp. Due to snow melt saturating the peat and soil surrounding them, the hot spots had not grown much in size since they were checked four weeks ago. A handheld thermal camera was used to measure the heat being produced by the hot spots and the heat signatures that were detected ranged from 123 to 198 degrees.
Given the deteriorating snow conditions in the area, access to the area by snowmachine is no longer viable and the hot spots will be monitored by air in the first week or two of May to determine whether they pose a threat of spreading.
As noted in a previous post, with the large, deep-burning fires Alaska experienced last year due to the extremely dry conditions, 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 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.