Lightning continues to ignite fires in Western Alaska

Lightning continues to sweep across Alaska and is blamed for leaving at least 57 new fires in its wake since Saturday. Most these new fires are in Western Alaska including the 15 new fires Wednesday in the BLM Alaska Fire Service Galena Zone that covers the northwestern section of the state. Most of the new fires are in remote parts of Alaska with very few fires generating response. Most firefighter responses have been to protect Native allotments, which get full protection status under federal law as long as resources are available and it doesn’t endanger firefighters. Before May 29, only one fire was attributed to lightning for a tenth of an acre burned on the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center daily situational report. This fire, the Windfall Mountain Fire northwest of Eagle, is actually a naturally occurring fire, but is grouped into the lightning category by default. By Wednesday night, the number of acres burned due to lightning-caused fires grew to an estimated 13,711 acres. This figure doesn’t include Thursday’s new growth and the three new fires that were reported by 3:30 p.m.

Map of active fires in Western Alaska as of June 4, 2020.
This maps shows active fires in Western Alaska as of early Thursday morning. Click on this link for PDF version of file.

Anticipating that this trend will continue, firefighting personnel will fly over areas where lightning was recorded in the past couple of days. Flights are also scheduled to check out reports of new fires that came in too late for aircraft or firefighters to respond Wednesday.

The good news is that because these fires are starting early in the season and after the late lingering winter snow in northern Alaska, the fires have so far been fairly easy to extinguish.

“One of the nice things is right now, the fires aren’t burning deep and it’s minimizing the normal Alaska extensive mop-up effort,” said Galena Zone Assistant Fire Management Officer Dustin Widmer. “It’s helping us out as far as being able to quickly catch the fires, mop them up, demobilizing people and putting them back in the line-up to respond to new fires.”

Map showing fires and lightning strikes across Alaska.
Map showing active fires (red dots), out fires (blue dots) and lightning strikes (black arrows) as of 5:30 p.m. on June 4, 2020. There were 1,169 recorded as of 5:30 p.m.

The one exception to this is the 1,700-acre Engineer Lake 2 Fire (#142) burning on Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act land southwest of Russian Mission.  This fire is burning in peat, which is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation and organic matter, that makes a fire hard to extinguish.  The BLM AFS Chena Hotshot Crew get the arduous task of putting out hot spots on this fire.

Meanwhile, the Midnight Sun Hotshots will wrap up work and, if weather allows, demobilize today from the 77-acre Chirosky River Fire (#123) burning about 70 miles northeast of Nome and about 16 miles northeast of Council. The crew will stage in Galena with the possibility of going to already burning fires if they are too close to sites identified as in need of protection.

Of the 67 active fires in Alaska, only five were staffed as of Thursday. All of them are in Western Alaska.

A squad of 10 firefighters from the Division of Forestry Type 2 Initial Attack Gannett Glacier crew will replace five DOF helitack firefighters on the 80-acre 4th of July Fire (#129) burning 27miles southwest of McGrath in the DOF Southwest Area. The Gannett Glacier crew is wrapping up work on the 100-acre Innoko Headwaters Fire (#130) burning 24 miles northwest of McGrath. Both lightning-caused fires started on May 31.

BLM AFS Smokejumpers were on their way to another incident when they spotted the Coffee Dome Fire (#167) burning near mining equipment about 58 miles north of Nome. They were able to contain it just before 10 p.m. Wednesday and anticipate finishing work on the 22-acre fire today.

Smokejumpers responded Thursday to a cluster of fires north of Council to protect some of the numerous Native allotments that dot the area surrounding the Fish River. Some of the fires were reported late last night and too late for a response due to the distance from the Galena Fire Station. They were able to fly over the fire areas and reported three fires were black spots showing no activity and a fourth, the White Mountain Fire (#169), was 30 acres and smoldering and creeping in tundra grass. BLM Smokejumpers were in the process of responding Thursday afternoon after a slight weather delay.

As of Wednesday, 155 fires have burned an estimated 14,194 acres across Alaska. Of these, 91 are suspected of being human caused, with one unknown and eight considered undetermined. This does not include Thursday’s fires.

For more information, contact BLM AFS Public Affairs Specialist Beth Ipsen at (907)388-2159 or

Categories: Active Wildland Fire, Alaska DNR - Division of Forestry (DOF), BLM Alaska Fire Service

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