About 60% of prescribed burning to reduce the threat of wildfire on Interior Alaska military training lands complete

Photo of firefighter
BLM AFS firefighter Brian Pitts uses a drip torch to ignite dry, dead grass in the Wills Project Area in between the Delta River and the Richardson Highway on April 27. Photo by Collins Bonds, BLM AFS

About 60 percent of prescribed burning to reduce the threat of wildfire on military training lands in Interior Alaska is complete with the rest targeted for completion sometime in the next two weeks – as long as the weather cooperates. This effort is a collaboration between BLM Fire Service (BLM AFS) and the U.S. Army Alaska (USARAK).

Burns were completed on Donnelly Training Area (DTA) east of the Delta River; the Oklahoma Impact Area directly east of the Delta Creek; the Fort Wainwright Small Arms Complex just outside Fairbanks; and the Yukon Training Area (YTA) east of Eielson Air Force Base. Still left are three ignition units in the Moose Creek Project Area and the Stuart Creek Impact Area in the YTA and the Battle Area Complex about seven miles south of Delta Junction in the DTA.

Smoke may still be visible deep within the interior of the roughly 50,000-acre Oklahoma Impact Area through this week. The range was lit by aerial ignition on Sunday and thoroughly black lined – meaning the edges were burned to prevent the fire from traveling outside the range. BLM AFS personnel estimate approximately 12,000 acres have burned so far in this range.

In order to consider a training area treated and calling the prescribed burn operation successful, the threat of wildfire is effectively reduced. This is typically accomplished by burning a thick enough swath along the edges of the area’s perimeter that if a wildfire is ignited, it is unable to burn outside the training area. 

  • Photo of prescribed burning.
  • Photo after a prescribed burning was completed.
  • Prescribed burning on the Small Arms Complex east of Fairbanks.
  • Photo of prescribed burning.
  • Photo of prescribed burning on a military training range.
  • Photo of prescribed burning.

Prescribed burning has so far been completed in these areas:

  • The roughly 2,000-acre Small Arms Complex on Fort Wainwright was completed on Saturday by burning approximately 450 acres.
  • An estimated 2,500 acres of the DTA east of the Delta River (DTAE) were treated by burning an estimated 1,000 acres last week.
  • On Sunday, firefighting personnel burned an estimated 125 acres to treat approximately 200 acres within the YTA including the Digital Multi-Purpose Training Range.
Photo of prescribed burning.
Prescribed burning was completed on the Digital Multi-Purpose Training Range in the Yukon Training Area near Eielson Air Force Base on Sunday, May 3, 2020. Photo by Collins Bonds, BLM AFS

Weather permitting, BLM AFS personnel will attempt to burn the remaining units in the Moose Creek Project Area in the YTA and return to the DTA this week to burn the Battle Area Complex seven miles south of Delta Junction. Prescribed burning on the Stuart Creek Impact Area about 15 miles east of Eielson Air Force Base in the YTA may be possible as early as this weekend after the snow melts in the higher elevations and north facing slopes.

Prescribed burns are fires that are intentionally set under controlled conditions to remove dry and dead grass and lower the risk of wildfires that could impact nearby communities. Removing the hazardous vegetation in the spring under more moderate conditions allows for the greatest degree of control and the lowest risk of negative impacts, such as smoke.

It’s one of the numerous preventative steps Alaska wildfire agencies are taking to reduce the likelihood of a larger wildfires later in the summer when the conditions are hotter and drier and firefighting resources may be limited.

The BLM AFS and USARAK are working with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the National Weather Service to monitor smoke conditions and to ensure compliance with local, state, and federal air quality regulations. There are also procedures in place to halt ignitions if conditions become unfavorable. Trained personnel will monitor the prescribed fire areas until the fires are out.

In addressing this priority work, all agencies will limit COVID-19 and other health and safety risks to firefighters and the public using established Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state, and local guidelines, and prescribed fire procedures. This includes potential smoke effects on people.

Please note that this burning is not covered under the Alaska Division of Forestry’s impending burn permit suspension that went into effect last Friday for most of Alaska (excluding Southeast) because these are federal lands. The state’s burn permit suspension applies only to state, municipal and private lands.

For more information contact AFS Fire Information at (907) 356-5510 or the Upper Yukon-Tanana Dispatch Center at (907) 356-5555.

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About BLM Alaska Fire Service

The Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service (AFS) located at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, provides wildland fire suppression services for over 244 million acres of Department of the Interior and Native Corporation Lands in Alaska. In addition, AFS has other statewide responsibilities that include: interpretation of fire management policy; oversight of the BLM Alaska Aviation program; fuels management projects; and operating and maintaining advanced communication and computer systems such as the Alaska Lightning Detection System. AFS also maintains a National Incident Support Cache with a $10 million inventory. The Alaska Fire Service provides wildland fire suppression services for America’s “Last Frontier” on an interagency basis with the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources, USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Military in Alaska.

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