Nearly 50 firefighters continued hammering away at the Salcha River Fire (#169) on Friday to strengthen control lines and increase containment on the 7-acre fire burning 25 air miles up the Salcha River.
The fire is located on a hillside about a quarter mile south of the river and approximately 50 miles southeast of Fairbanks. The fire did not grow in size on Friday and firefighters were able to increase containment to 30 percent, an increase of 10 percent from Thursday. There are four cabins within a mile of the fire but none are considered threatened given the progress firefighters have made in containing the fire.
While fire behavior on Friday was limited to smoldering and some open flame well within the perimeter, heat in the interior of the fire remains the primary concern. Afternoon thunder cells produced erratic winds over the fire Friday, causing occasional flare-ups and single tree torching.
There is a sense of urgency to gain ground before a high-pressure ridge begins building across the Interior, bringing the warmest temperatures of the summer. Temperatures are expected to climb into the high 70s or low 80s beginning on Monday. Fire managers with the Alaska Division of Forestry expect it will take crews at least another two days to fully contain the fire.
Firefighters are currently searching for hot spots inside the perimeter of the fire, a process called cold trailing. Thus far, they have covered 20 feet inside the perimeter and will be looking to increase depth today. Firefighters are also “bone piling” trees trees that were cut around the perimeter of the fire to help halt its progress during initial attack. This arduous process involves cutting up and stacking the trees in piles to reduce fuels on the ground and make for easier access to the fireline.
Two Type 2 initial attack crews – White Mountain and Tanana Chiefs – are handling the brunt of the work. Eight BLM Alaska Fire Service smokejumpers that were deployed during initial attack were released from the fire on Thursday, leaving 46 personnel assigned to the fire. A helicopter is being used to shuttle supplies and food into firefighters.
The fire is believed to be a lightning-caused holdover from lightning in the area in previous days. It was reported just before 2:30 p.m. Wednesday by military range control personnel who could see smoke in the area. The initial report sized it up as 3 acres burning in black spruce and mixed hardwoods.
The Division of Forestry launched an aggressive aerial assault on the fire that included water drops from two water-scooping aircraft and a helicopter, as well as two retardant drops from an air tanker. Retardant was dropped between the cabins on the south side of the river and the fire to slow any spread toward the cabins and on the south flank of the fire to slow its spread in that direction. Fire managers reported “minimal spread” once aircraft began dropping water and retardant on and around the fire.