Fish smoker believed to be responsible for small wildfire near Willow in Mat-Su Valley

A quick, aggressive attack by Mat-Su Area Forestry and local fire departments helped contain a one-half acre wildfire near Willow on Thursday afternoon that is believed to have been started by a fish smoker.

The Ringler Fire was reported near Mile 77 of the Parks Highway just before 4 p.m. Thursday. The fire was located on West Ringler Circle off Sockeye Avenue, the same area where the devastating 2015 Sockeye Fire started and burned more than 50 homes.

  • A firefighter sprays down hotspots on a wildfire behind a burned-up fish smoker.
  • Smoke rises from a fire at a residence near Willow, Alaska.
  • The charred remains of a fish smoker that is believed to have started a small wildfire in Willow on Thursday, August 6, 2021. Chris Anderson/Alaska DNR-Division of Forestry
  • Charred spruce trees lie on the ground in the woods that were cut down after being burned by a small wildfire near Willow.

Two engines and Helitack from Mat-Su Area Forestry in Palmer responded, as well as multiple engines and water tenders from four local fire departments – Houston, Caswell, Talkeetna and Willow. With assistance from helicopter water drops, firefighters on the ground were able to quickly corral the fire and contain it to one-half acre.

The fire was on the edge of the Sockeye Fire scar and burned more intensely than expected for August, said acting Mat-Su Area Fire Management Officer Cal Maki. The fire exhibited extreme fire behavior not usually seen this late in the season, casting embers as far as 300 feet in front of itself that ignited spot fires that needed to be put out, Maki said.

“Any wind and we would have had control issues,” Maki said.

There was a structure and outbuildings on the property and multiple structures in the surrounding area that could have been threatened by the fire had firefighters not acted as quickly as they did.

Firefighters cut a saw line around the fire and situated hose lays around it to provide a water source for extinguishing spot fires and hotspots. The Helitack crew gridded for hotspots 500 feet into the unburned vegetation around the fire to ensure that it had not cast embers into the green that could flare up later. The grid revealed nine hotspots that were extinguished. The fire was declared contained at 7:17 p.m.

“The fire is suspected to have escaped from a fish smoker that the homeowner had used earlier in the week, and we suspect had started a fire in the roots at the base of a spruce stump and went unnoticed until yesterday when conditions were right for it to escape,” Maki wrote in an email. “We were lucky to catch this one as our helicopter was already running and about to take off to a fire in Copper River.”

The smokehouse was completely destroyed in the fire but no other structures on the property were damaged.

The fire illustrates how dry conditions are in the Mat-Su Valley with recent warm weather and should serve as a good reminder for people about the multiple ways wildfires can start. If you are smoking salmon, be sure to place the smoker on mineral soil or another surface that will not catch fire and check the area around the smoker for any hotspots when finished.

Categories: Active Wildland Fire, AK Fire Info


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