With the onset of winter rapidly approaching, suppression repair work on the Haystack Fire north of Fairbanks is nearing completion.
The Haystack Fire burned 927 acres about 20 miles north of Fairbanks in mid-June. The lightning-caused fire was discovered on June 14 and posed an immediate threat to dozens of homes in the nearby Haystack Subdivision on Haystack Mountain, only about 2 miles south of the fire. The Alaska Type 2 Black Incident Management Team commanded by Ed Sanford was brought in to manage the fire, bringing it to 100 percent containment on June 26. Containment efforts included clearing approximately 5 miles of containment lines with bulldozers to help stop the spread of the fire.
Due to a shortage of resources and a high level of wildfire activity in the Fairbanks Area at the time, fire managers opted to delay suppression repair until the peak of fire season had passed. In addition to a shortage of resources, the Fairbanks Area Forestry station wanted to leave dozer lines open in the event there was a rekindle of the Haystack Fire or a new start in the same area that the lines could be used for, said Fairbanks Area Forester Matt Stevens.
Suppression repair work began September 1 and should be completed by October 1. A single excavator is being used to complete most of the suppression repair, which primarily consists of rehabilitating dozer lines. This is accomplished by pulling cleared vegetation back onto the dozer line to create a vegetative layer that protects the soil and reduces the chances of the dozer line being developed into an ATV trail. The goal is to return the area to its normal state as much as possible.
Water bars are also constructed to channel water off any cleared lines to prevent erosion, especially on slopes. A water bar is typically a diagonal channel cut across the dozer line that diverts surface runoff as a result of rain or spring snow melt so it doesn’t carve ruts into the soil. By constructing a series of water bars at different intervals along a dozer line, the volume of water flowing down the line is reduced, as is the potential for erosion.
“The main goal of suppression repair is to stabilize disturbed soils as much as possible,” Stevens said. “Putting vegetation back in place over cleared ground helps to re-establish the insulating layer. Properly installed water bars not only divert water away from unwanted areas, but also slows the water down, lessening the potential for erosion.”
It is best to have all suppression repair work complete before hard winter sets in so the ground is prepped for spring breakup, said Stevens. Breakup is when there is the highest potential for erosion due to spring snow melt. Having water controlling infrastructure like water bars in place prior to breakup reduces potential for erosion, he said.
While some members of the public view dozer lines as potential new trails that increase access, that’s not necessarily the way land managers see it, Stevens said. Land managers pay close attention to the presence and condition of access routes prior to and after a wildfire. The goal is to return conditions to as close to pre-fire conditions as possible, he said. Suppression repair on State of Alaska lands typically includes closing off all new access points (i.e. dozer lines) that are created during a fire response. In the case of the Haystack Fire, land managers don’t want to create any new access routes into the Caribou-Poker Creeks Research Watershed managed by the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
However, the dozer line that was put in on top of the ridge north of Haystack Mountain during the 2004 fire season and re-opened as a containment line for the Haystack Fire, will remain open as there was already a well-established trail along the fire break prior to the fire, Stevens said.
Categories: AK Fire Info