In April 2022, National Park Service staff took on the logistical challenge of conducting important fuels work at a remote cabin at Narvak Lake within Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Eastern Area Fire Management staff left from Fairbanks, spent a day driving to Coldfoot, and then a full day of shuttling gear and personnel to the remote cabin at Narvak Lake, using a ski plane. All in all, two days of mobilization and demobilization were needed to accomplish the project. During the time staff spent at the lake, they camped out in temperatures that reached as low as -22°F. They were able to burn fuel piles, which had been compiled during the summer, to create defensible space within one hundred feet of the cabin.
More than half of NPS structures in Alaska are farther than one mile from a road; in fact, for the more than 1,500 NPS structures in Alaska further than one mile from a road, the average distance from the structure to the nearest road is 32 miles! But these structures are crucial to those who visit remote parts of the state to recreate, subsistence hunt and fish, and conduct important park work. Often, they provide the only shelter for miles, in conditions where shelter can be a matter of life or death. Difficulty accessing these structures makes them extra vulnerable in the event of wildfire and makes it critical to conduct fuels treatments prior to any threats. Through fuels treatments and pile burning, the threat of losing them in the event of a wildfire is greatly reduced.
Eastern Area Fire Management staff have three burn pile plans in place for all three of parks under their management, and with the recent work at Narvak Lake, they have now accomplished a pile burn at each one within the last year: Gates of the Arctic, Yukon-Charley, and Wrangell-St Elias Parks and Preserves. This work has increased the likelihood that remote structures in Alaska’s national parks will be able to withstand potential future wildland fires, and will be around to provide shelter for many future backcountry travelers accessing remote public land in Alaska.