Alaska is now past its historical peak of the wildland fire season and current and forecasted conditions are pointing to a below-normal fire season for the state, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center’s Predictive Services desk.
Significant rainfall in many parts of the state during the last half of June moderated fire activity and saturated fuel layers, Moore said. As a result, many of the more than 80 active wildfires around the state are simply smoldering or no longer showing activity.
“Right now, we don’t have the fuels to support a lot of fire growth on the ground and we would need at least a week, maybe 10 days or more, of warming and drying to put a lot of areas in the state into having the duff dry enough to start supporting more intense fire behavior that has been isolated this year,” Moore said. Duff is the partially decomposed organic material found beneath the surface that can increase fire intensity when conditions are dry enough.
That doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon, said Heidi Strader, a meteorologist with AICC Predictive Services. The current long-range forecast doesn’t indicate any extended period of hot, dry weather. Coupled with increasingly shorter daylight hours, this doesn’t support significant fire growth on fires that are currently smoldering in Alaska.
As of Wednesday, there had been 299 wildfires reported this season that had burn an estimated 173,743 acres, according to AICC statistics. Based on historical data, the chances of reaching the 500,000 mark is less than 20%, Strader said. In a typical fire season, Alaska burns about 650,000 acres.
The northeastern and northwestern parts of the state are the remaining holdouts for cooler, wetter weather. The Yukon Flats and the Noatak River Valley still have drier conditions and the highest chance of fire activity. However, only three fires are currently staffed with firefighting personnel in Alaska. On Thursday, there were 25 people still working on the Isom Creek Fire 84 miles north of Fairbanks and the Midnight Sun Hotshots mobilized Wednesday to protect a Native allotment near the Sheenjek River Fire burning 46 miles north of Fort Yukon. Other Alaska crews were doing project work such as removing hazardous vegetation near communities while remaining in state to respond to fires if needed.
July 10 marks the first evaluation date for Alaska’s fire season. On Thursday, representatives from state, tribal and federal land and wildland fire management agencies that comprise the Alaska Wildland Fire Coordinating Group agreed to convert some Modified initial response areas to Limited initial response based on current weather conditions and long-range forecasts, as well as evaluation of vegetation and soil moisture levels. Most fires in Limited areas do not pose a threat to any values at risk and are allowed to function in their normal ecological role. Other Modified areas have later evaluation dates.
The Alaska Interagency Wildland Fire Management Plan outlines an interagency approach for prioritizing response to Alaska wildfires. There are four management option levels for lands in Alaska – Critical, Full, Modified and Limited – in the plan, which guides response to and suppression of wildfires in the state. Flexibility built into the plan allows for responses tailored to accommodate limited resource availability and unforeseen risks and conditions and, in some cases, non-standard strategies will be employed in order to mitigate those risks.
Options are selected by jurisdictional agencies, which have land and resource management responsibility for a specific geographical or functional area. The protection levels are based upon legal mandates, policies, regulations, resource management objectives, and local conditions, including but not limited to population density, fire occurrence, environmental factors, and identified values. Management options are assigned on a landscape scale and apply across jurisdictional boundaries. Ideally, those boundaries are readily identifiable from both the air and ground, are based on fuel types, access, topographic features, natural barriers and fire regimes. Management option designations are intended to be flexible to respond to changes in objectives, fire conditions, land-use patterns, resource information, and technologies. Jurisdictional agencies are responsible for updating and reviewing management option and site designations annually. Management options may only be changed with the approval of all affected jurisdictional agencies.
See the Alaska Interagency Wildland Fire Management Plan for more information about wildland fire management in Alaska.
Contact Alaska Division of Forestry Statewide Public Information Officer Tim Mowry at (907)356-5512 or firstname.lastname@example.org or BLM Alaska Fire Service Public Affairs Specialist Beth Ipsen at (907)356-5510 or email@example.com for more information.