(FAIRBANKS, Alaska) – The number of aircraft and firefighting personnel in St. Mary’s will significantly increase in the upcoming days in response to the East Fork Fire’s recent rapid growth on the west side of the Andreafsky River.
The fire has burned an estimated 33,000 acres since it started on May 31. About 5,000 acres of that is from where the fire crossed the Andreafsky River Tuesday afternoon. The fire is still about 12 miles north of St. Mary’s. There is no evacuation order in place for St. Mary’s or nearby villages. There is a public meeting scheduled in St. Mary’s at 3 p.m. on Thursday, June 9. Location will be announced soon.
The fire spotted in multiple locations and, despite the best efforts of an air assault by water-scoopers, retardant airtankers and helicopters doing bucket drops, grew very rapidly. 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. They are now protecting a Native allotments and cabins on the west side of the river while BLM Alaska Fire Service Galena Zone fire managers reorganize the efforts on the fire. The priorities on the incident are still public and firefighter safety, and protecting sites of value, including Native allotments and cabins along the Andreafsky and East Fork Andreafsky rivers as well as St. Mary’s and neighboring villages of Pilot Station, Pitkas Point and Mountain Village. The Chena Hotshots will start work on sawing a fuel break north of these villages to protect it in case the fire continues to head south along the river corridor.
For the last four days, the fire has experienced significant growth late into the evening due to wind channeling south down the river drainage, pushing the fire south in between the Andreafsky River and the East Fork of the Andreafsky River.
The Alaska Type 2 Incident Management Green Team was ordered to take over management of the wildfire due to its proximity to numerous Native allotments, historical sites and communities. An incident management team is mobilized during complex emergency incidents to provide a command and control infrastructure in order to manage the operational, logistical, informational, planning, fiscal, community, political, and safety issues associated with complex incidents.
The lightning-caused fire did burn two predominately tundra grass covered Native allotments and some of the hose smokejumpers had strung out along its borders.
A temporary flight restriction was placed over the fire area to provide a safe airspace for firefighting aircraft.
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, windy conditions are predicted to continue in the next few days, which will likely continue to push wildfire growth. There is a chance temperatures will cool in the upcoming days. Click on link for past East Fork Fire updates.
Contact BLM AFS Public Affairs Specialist Beth Ipsen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907)356-5510 for more information.