Warm, dry conditions and lightning resulted in a spike in wildfire activity in Southcentral Alaska over the weekend.
There were five new fires reported in the Mat-Su protection area, including three that were attributed to lightning. Prior to those lightning starts, there had been only one lightning-caused fire in Alaska so far this season – a 7-acre fire near McGrath on May 15.
There were also five new, human-caused wildfires reported in the Kenai/Kodiak protection area over the weekend, including an approximately 50-acre fire on Kodiak Island that wildland firefighters are working to mop up today.
The Kalsin Creek Fire is burning on the east side of Kodiak Island between the Olds River and Kalsin Creek. It is less than a quarter mile from Pasagshak Road and approximately 10 miles southeast of Womens Bay. The fire was initially reported at around 10:30 p.m. Friday but due to the late hour Forestry personnel were not able to respond until Saturday.
Firefighters from the U.S. Coast Guard were the first to respond to the fire at around 10 a.m. Saturday and air attack personnel from the Division of Forestry arrived on the fire at around 11:30 a.m. They reported an approximately 5- to 8-acre fire creeping in grass, brush and mixed hardwoods. A ranch with multiple structures on it is located about 1 mile east of the fire but there are two rivers and a road between the fire and the ranch, which is not considered threatened.
Coast Guard firefighters were able to knock down the most active portion of the fire and tie it into the creek to prevent further forward spread. An air tanker was ordered to drop a load of retardant on the fire to slow its progress until four Forestry personnel arrived at around 8 p.m. Water drops from a helicopter were used on the most active portion of the fire to the south and forestry firefighters stayed on scene until about 11 p.m. securing the perimeter. The fire is boxed in by Kalsin Creek on one side, the Olds River on the other side and a dozer line to the north. There was no smoke visible when Forestry personnel departed back to Kodiak for the night.
Firefighters returned to the fire at around 10 a.m. Monday to begin mop-up operations. At last report, the fire perimeter was reported to be about 50 acres. The fire was human caused and is under investigation.
Kenai/Kodiak Area firefighters suppressed three other human-caused fires over the weekend, a 2-acre on Greenwood Road in Homer caused by hot ashes dumped into grass, a half-acre fire off of Ranch Road as the result of an escaped debris burn and a 0.3-acre fire off Funny River Road, also caused by an escaped debris burn.
In the Mat-Su Area, meanwhile, firefighters responded to three suspected lightning-caused fires over the weekend. The first was reported by a private pilot just after 5 p.m. Saturday as a half-acre fire near the Deshka River about 8 miles west of the Parks Highway. The fire was approximately 10 miles upstream from the confluence of the Susitna River.
A three-person Helitack load was dispatched to the fire from the Mat-Su Area forestry station in Palmer. Firefighters worked to get a containment line around the fire while the helicopter made water drops to knock down hot spots. Eleven members of the Gannett Glacier Type 2 Initial Attack Crew were shuttled into the fire to mop up and the fire was declared out early Sunday evening.
Two other lightning-caused fires were reported in the Mat-Su protection area on Sunday, one of which burned a home down on Pettis Drive near Long Lake in Willow after lightning struck a tree and the burning tree caught the structure on fire. The structure was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived on scene and forestry firefighters extinguished the wildland portion of the fire.
A third lightning-ignited fire was reported at around 4 p.m. in the Montana Creek area in the vicinity of Herringbone Street. Mat-Su Helitack responded and located a quarter-acre fie that quickly suppressed and called out.