The BLM Alaska Fire Service is establishing a Type 3 fire management team to deal with a new, quickly growing 813-acre wildfire east of the village of Venetie in the upper Yukon Zone.
The lightning-caused Marten Creek Fire was reported at 1:30 p.m. Sunday as a 3- to 4-acre wildfire burning in continuous black spruce approximately 13 miles east of Venetie. The fire is located in a Full management protection area on Venetie Indian and Neets Ai Corporation lands. While no values are immediately threatened by the fire, there are three cabins within 7 miles of the fire, the closest of which is about 5 miles to the southeast.
Driven by wind and exceptionally dry fuels, the fire grew exponentially on Sunday despite an aggressive aerial response. Twelve smokejumpers were deployed on the fire at 3 p.m. and four water-scooping aircraft were called in to make water drops to slow the fire’s growth. An air tanker was also launched for retardant drops around the fire’s edge. With no nearby water sources, setting up pumps and hose lines to establish a control line was not an option
Despite efforts by aircraft and smokejumpers to slow the fire’s spread, the blaze grew quickly and mushroomed to 350 acres by 4:45 p.m. with growth primarily on the north edge of the fire into what fire managers described as a “sea of black spruce” that has not burned in 30 years.
By 7:30 p.m., the fire had ballooned to 750 acres, prompting fire managers to reassess their strategy from full suppression to point protection.
“We utilized air assets to try to catch it and it quickly became clear that wasn’t going to be the case,” said Dustin Wessel, acting Upper Yukon Zone assistant fire manager for BLM AFS. “We then used the air assets to help establish an anchor point and safe camp spot for the jumpers.”
Smokejumpers were pulled back into Venetie Monday morning to develop a plan to protect the cabins closest to the fire, as well as the village of Venetie should the fire move that direction. The last report Monday afternoon was that the fire was 100 percent active and being pushed north, away from the village, by 25 mph winds, which will likely result in significant growth by tomorrow.
The fuels south of the fire that separate it from the village are not nearly as volatile as the fuels north of the fire because that area is relatively new growth that combines a mixture of spruce and mixed hardwoods. The primary spread potential is to the north of the fire, Wessel said.
The BLM AFS North Star Crew has been ordered to the fire and will be working to open up an old fuel break that was cut around the northern perimeter of the village several years ago but has since overgrown. Eight smokejumpers were demobilized from the fire today and the four remaining smokejumpers will be assessing the cabins that will be protected.