Firefighting efforts expand as East Fork Fire north of St. Mary’s sees significant growth

  • Three men hand bags to a man sitting inside an aircraft.
  • Two men loading red bags onto an aircraft.

(FAIRBANKS, Alaska) – Warm, dry and windy conditions continue to keep the East Fork Fire active and push fire growth south along the Andreafsky River about 12 miles north of St. Mary’s. 

On Tuesday morning two water-scoopers and an air attack plane are working with firefighting personnel on the ground to help coordinate the suppression efforts to cool down the south edge of the fire.  

The BLM Alaska Fire Service Chena Hotshot Crew also started its 400-mile journey from Fairbanks to St. Mary’s Tuesday morning. Two helicopters are based in St. Mary’s to provide support shuttling people and supplies around as well as bucket drops to the firefighters on the ground. 

For the last four days the fire has remained active and has experienced significant growth late into the evening due to wind channeling south down the river drainage. The fire is estimated to have burnt almost 30,000 acres as of Tuesday morning. For safety reasons, the 10 smokejumpers working to protect Native allotments on the east side of the river pulled back to a safe area on the west side of the river Monday night as the fire quickly burned through tundra and tussock grass. The fire is still to the east of the Andreafsky River and west of the East Fork Andreafsky River, which remains one of the objectives for firefighters. The priorities on the incident are public and firefighter safety, and protecting sites of value, including Native allotments and cabins along the Andreafsky and East Fork Andreafsky Rivers. Northerly winds are pushing the fire south between the two rivers and toward a point where they meet just north of St. Mary’s. The fire is still about 12 miles north of St. Mary’s and is on the opposite side of the river from the village. 

The fire did burn two predominately tundra grass covered Native allotments and some of the hose smokejumpers had strung out along its borders. 

This lightning-caused fire started on May 31 and originally burned in a limited management option area within the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. This option allows for management of wildfires to benefit the natural habitat as long as it doesn’t threaten any sites of value. 

That changed a few days later. In response, eight smokejumpers deployed to protect a Native allotment and cabin from the fire on Thursday. Two more joined a few days later. No structures have burned in the fire. 

BLM AFS Galena Management Zone officials will work with refuge managers to keep close tabs on the situation and modify the response as needed. Both have reached out to Tribal and Native corporation leaders to help identify other sites of value to protect. 

Meanwhile, hot, dry and windy conditions are predicted to continue in the next few days, which will likely continue push wildfire growth. There is a chance temperatures will cool this weekend. 

Contact BLM AFS Public Affairs Specialist Beth Ipsen at (907)356-5510 or for more information.


Find previous wildfire information on the East Fork Fire here.

A map with a river, purple squares for Native allotments and a red outline of a perimeter around a fire.
Map showing location of the East Fork Fire (#160) burning about 12 miles north of St. Mary’s. The purple squares are Native allotments in the area.

Categories: Active Wildland Fire, AK Fire Info, BLM Alaska Fire Service, Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge

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