Lightning ignites at least 15 fires across Alaska this weekend

Firefighters and aircraft were are busy Sunday working on two lightning-caused fires burning within 25 miles of Unlakleet with more firefighters slated to joint the effort after lightning became a big factor in new fire starts in Alaska this weekend. Lightning is suspected of causing more than 15 new fires in Alaska this weekend. 

There were approximately 1,858 recorded lightning strikes throughout the state Saturday with Sunday’s tally at more than 2,900 by 8 p.m. On Saturday, the lightning was scattered throughout a ribbon starting in the Yukon-Kukoskwim Delta north of Bethel stretching across through Central Interior with a cluster appearing north of the Mat-Su Valley. On Sunday, that area was expanded to the Canadian border as rain storms moved through the Fairbanks area in the afternoon. 

A load of eight smokejumpers and two water-scooping Fire Boss aircraft prepositioned Sunday for quicker response to fires in Western Alaska were dispatched to the Chiroskey River Fire (#123) outside Unalakleet shortly after arriving in Galena at about noon Sunday. Another airplane was helping guide the suppression efforts on the ground and the air. The roughly 20-person BLM AFS Midnight Sun Interagency Hotshots will head west from Fairbanks Monday for its first fire assignment of the year. The fire was reported by a Unalkakleet resident shortly after 10 a.m. The Chiroskey River Fire was burning in a limited management option area, but there are Native allotments nearby and a cabin within five miles of the fire. The fire area received a little bit of rain Sunday, boosting the efforts to get around the fire to stop if from growing larger than the estimated 64 acres Sunday night.

Meanwhile, eight smokejumpers were wrapping things up today on North Fork Fire (#122) located 15 miles northeast of Unalakleet. The smokejumpers mobilized Saturday evening and worked into the early morning hours to stop it from growing larger than 10 acres. The North Fork Fire was reported by BLM AFS personnel aboard a surveillance aircraft shortly after 9 p.m. Smokejumpers were expecting to have the fire contained Sunday night and demobilize on Monday.

Most of the new lightning-caused fires occurred in Western Alaska Saturday – five are within the Alaska Division of Forestry protection area in Southwest Alaska and three were located in the BLM AFS protection area. The sole human-caused fire on Saturday occurred when a structure fire in Anchor Point spread to grass and was quickly extinguished by firefighters.

BLM Alaska Fire Service will also keep an eye on a lightning-caused the Clear Creek Fire (#128) burning in the Tanana Flats Training Area about nine miles south of Fairbanks. Several members of the public reported seeing smoke from the fire burning in the Alpha Impact Area on U.S. Army Garrison lands Sunday. However, it is not threatening any structures or resources. BLM AFS personnel aboard a plane were able to fly over the fire earlier today and report it was about a quarter acre in size and burning in tundra and brush. Another flight is scheduled tonight to get another look at the fire and to scout for other new starts after lightning moved through the area Sunday.

Other new fires on Saturday included:

  • The St. Michael Fire (#115) was reported by a St Michael resident shortly after 6 p.m. and a nearby fire, the St Michael Fire 2 (#121), was spotted by BLM AFS personnel aboard a surveillance aircraft just before 9 p.m. Both fires are about 24 miles south of St. Michael in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Both fires received rain with more predicted to be one the way. Because they didn’t pose a threat, the fires were placed in monitor status. 
  • The Manokinak River Fire (#118) was reported by a local pilot through FAA flight service Saturday. DOF personnel flew over the fire and  reported it as 250 acres with 100 percent of its perimeter burning whether it was creeping, backing or running with 1-3 foot flame lengths. It is burning in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in Southwest Alaska. Because there were no structures or resources threatened, and the fire was burning in a limited management option area, the fire was placed in monitor status.  
  • The Little Tonzona River (#117) was reported by Nikolai residents Saturday. A DOF Heitack crew responded from McGrath and reported the fire as five acres and running in tundra and black spruce near the South Fork of the Kuskoskwim River in Southwestern Alaska. Two cabins are located about fie miles to the southwest. However, since the fire was located in a limited management option area, it was placed in monitor status.
  • The 5-acre Ingakslugwat Hills Fire (#116) was burning in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge and reported by a local pilot. Because the fire was burning in a limited management area within DOF’s Southwest Area and wasn’t threatening any structures or other resources, no action was taken.
  • The one-acre Big River Fire (#120) was detected by personnel aboard a DOF helicopter in Southwest Alaska about 20 miles east of Nikolai. Because no structures or other resources were threatened and the fire was boxed in by water, no action was taken.
  • The 2.2 acre No Creek Fire (#119) was detected by personnel aboard a DOF helicopter about 25 miles east of Nikolai. No action was taken because the fire was burning in a limited management option area and no structures or resources were threatened.

Go to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center Dashboard, the daily AICC Situation Report for contact the Alaska Interagency Fire Information Office at (907)356-5511 for more information.

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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