Smoke from a cluster of four wildfires burning in southwest Alaska is impacting some Yukon-Kuskokwim communities in the area around Bethel and Dillingham.
Residents in Togiak and Goodnews Bay reported heavy smoke in their communities early Tuesday afternoon. The smoke is likely being blown into the communities from four different lightning-caused fires burning in the Yukon-Delta National Wildilfe Refuge approximately 90 miles northwest of Bethel. The Manokinak River Fire (#118), Ingakslugwat Hills Fire (#116), Kochilagok Hill Fire (#153) and Iwaktok Fire (#154) are all actively burning in close proximity to each other.
All four fires were started by lightning about a week and a half ago. The fires are in Limited Protection areas and do not currently pose a threat. The fires are being monitored by the Alaska Division of Forestry fire station in McGrath.
The Manokinak River Fire is the largest of the four fires at an estimated 10,915 acres as of Tuesday morning. It was reported on May 30. A monitoring flight on Monday reported the fire as 10 percent active with smoldering and creeping. The fire was spreading to the southeast in tundra, grass and brush.
The Ingakslugwat Hills Fire, also reported on May 30, was estimated at 5,146 acres as of Tuesday morning and was reported to be 50 percent active following an observation flight on Monday. It was creeping and backing to the southeast in tundra, grass and brush. The fire made a significant run to the south and was active on the west, south and east perimeters.
Both the Manokinak River and Ingakslugwat Hills Fires were started by lightning on May 30.
The Kochilagok Hill Fire was reported on May 31 and was estimated at 4,575 acres as of Tuesday morning. An observation flight on Monday reported the fire to be 80 percent active and spreading to the southeast. The fire was burning actively on the west, northeast and southern perimeters with significant growth on the southwest side.
The Iwaktok Fire was reported on June 1 and was estimated at 3,799 acres of Tuesday morning. The fire was reported to be 80 percent active following an observation flight on Monday with spread to the southeast.
Smokejumpers from the BLM Alaska Fire Service worked to contain another lightning-caused fire in the area on Monday about 10 miles east of the village of Newtok. The Lou Lake Fire (#207), estimated at 300 acres, was declared contained as of 11 a.m. Tuesday.
Ten smokejumpers were deployed to the fire at around 5 p.m. on Monday afternoon to protect several Native allotments that were identified within a few miles of the fire on three different sides. The fire was initially detected via satellite Monday morning. A phone call to residents in Newtok confirmed the fire. It was reported to be approximately 3 acres, burning in a dry meadow.
An airplane from the Division of Forestry’s McGrath station was launched at around 1 p.m. to get a better size up on the fire and reported it to be approximately 40 acres, burning in tundra and grass with two separate heads. Winds from the northwest were pushing it south toward allotments.
Smokejumpers arrived on scene and began setting up pumps and hose line around the perimeter of the fire, using multiple ponds in the area as a water source. Smokejumpers worked until about midnight and were able to get a hose line around the entire perimeter of the fire.
The fire showed minimal growth overnight and was declared contained at 11 a.m. with an estimated size of 300 acres. Smokejumpers will remain on scene today and tonight to seek out and destroy any hot spots found within 300 feet inside the fire’s perimeter. Demobilization of all resources is anticipated for Wednesday.