Smoke from two large lightning-caused tundra fires burning north of Kotzebue is impacting surrounding villages to the south. The Noatak River Fire (#232) burning in the Noatak National Preserve 120 miles northeast of Kotzebue grew significantly over the past few days and is now the largest in the state at an estimated 11,000 acres. Meanwhile, eight smokejumpers were dispatched Tuesday afternoon to protect a Native allotment a few miles from the Tutak Creek Fire (#243) burning about 24 miles east of Kivalina and 70 miles north of Kotzebue. The Tutak Creek Fire is an estimated 2,000 acres and was burning in wetlands within about 3-4 miles southeast of the nearest Native allotment Tuesday morning. Despite the abundance of natural barriers, afternoon winds pushed it close enough to warrant response from smokejumpers to protect the allotment.
The Tutak Creek Fire started on Sunday and the Noatak River Fire was discovered on Friday. Both fires are burning in a limited management option that which means as long as they’re not threatening any valuable sites nearby, they’re placed in monitor status. That changed when the Tutak Creek Fire started burning close to the Native allotments, generating a response to protect the allotments.
Fire managers with the BLM Alaska Fire Service Galena Zone will keep close tabs on both fires as well as send regular flights along the Kobuk and Noatak river corridors to detect new fires from thunderstorms and lightning forecasted in the upcoming days.
The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for both the Kobuk and Noatak river valleys for 2-10 p.m. day due to thunderstorms and abundant lightning that could trigger new starts. Plus, outflows from thunder cells could kick up fire activity on these two existing large fires. The thunderstorms could be wet and may also produce hail and gusty winds. Warmer and drier weather will return on Wednesday, accompanied by winds out of the northeast that could blow smoke into Noatak, Ambler, Kiana, Kotzebue, Ambler, Kobuk, and as far south of Buckland and Deering. Thunderstorms, with a chance of wetting rains, are forecasted starting Thursday for an area northwest of Galena.
For more information about these fires, contact BLM Alaska Fire Service Public Affairs Specialist Beth Ipsen at (907)356-5510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.