Wildfires show extreme behavior in northeastern Alaska due to dry, warm conditions

Arctic front forecasted to bring cooler, wetter weather this weekend

A large smoke column rises out of a fire burning through a green landscape dotted with sloughs, lakes and a river.
The Goose Fire (#395) was actively burning when eight Alaska smokejumpers mobilized Wednesday evening to protect a cabin from the 6,357-acre fire. This fire is burning in the Yukon Flats in northeastern Alaska about 41 miles east of Fort Yukon. Photo by smokejumper pilot Paul Anderson

While rains have swept through a majority of Alaska, they have largely avoided northeastern Alaska which remains the warmest, driest part of the state. The area hasn’t seen a new fire since July 29, but existing wildfires in the Yukon Flats remain very active while other fires in the rest of the state are largely dormant.

Because the area is sparsely populated and the fires aren’t immediately threatening any communities, the response has largely been to protect smaller sites of value such as cabins, Native allotments or historic and cultural sites. The busy fire Alaska season kept firefighting resources scattered throughout the state, prompting statewide wildland fire managers to continually prioritize the fire response

The BLM Alaska Fire Service’s Upper Yukon Zone, which provides the fire suppression services for 51.9 million acres in northeastern Alaska, has firefighting personnel conducting routine flights over the unstaffed fires. Of the five staffed fires and two fire complexes statewide, three are located in the Yukon Flats. The Zone has 44 of the 222 statewide active fires within its boundaries. The Zone has had 66 wildfires burn 343,216 acres so far this year.

After fire activity picked up Wednesday, eight smokejumpers were deployed on the Goose Fire (#395) to protect a Native allotment on the Belle Lake to the east of the 6,357-acre fire. The nearby 920-acre Belle Fire (#398) was also active in the past few days. These two fires are now butting up against each other and are burning on the north side of the Porcupine River more than 41 miles northeast of Fort Yukon.

Firefighting personnel flying over the Goose Fire reported seeing fire flame lengths of up to 80 feet high, which is a big indication of the extreme, dry conditions.

A large smoke column filling the air above a flat landscape.
Here’s another view of Goose Fire (#395) 6,357-acre fire taken by a firefighter flying the area on Aug. 3, 2022. Photo by Matt Kilgriff, BLM Alaska Fire Service

Four smokejumpers are also on the Kocacho Fire (#592) to protect a cabin north of the fire burning in the Venetie Nation 15.5 miles east of Venetie. They’re also keeping tabs on the nearby 1,133-acre Christian Fire (#528) located 20 miles east of Venetie. Upper Yukon Zone managers are also monitoring the 632-acre Bearman Fire (#444) 17.5 miles south of Venetie, which was also expected to be active Thursday. Earlier this season firefighters cleared out brush and set up a water pump and sprinkler systems around a cabin located about 3.5 miles to the northeast in case smokejumpers needed to quickly mobilize if it is threatened by the fire.

It’s not uncommon for wildfire season to linger in the Yukon Flats since it experiences some of the coldest temperatures of the state during the winter and the hottest in the summer. It is also climatologically the driest part of the state. The Yukon Flats is a vast area of wetlands, forest, bog and low-lying ground centered on the confluence of Yukon, Porcupine and Teedriinjik (Chandalar) rivers. Chalkyitsik, which is in the Yukon Flats, was the hot spot for the past two days with 80 and 81-degree weather. The region’s hub, Fort Yukon, straddles the Arctic Circle.

  • Pockets of smoke rises up from a brown and black burned area mixed in with green, unburned patches and a large lake.
  • A large smoke column rises from the ground near a river.
  • Pockets of smoke rises up from a brown and black burned area mixed in with green, unburned patches and a large lake.

But this may likely come to an end as the Yukon Flats is predicted to receive some of the widespread rain starting Friday, according to meteorologist Heidi Strader, the fire weather program manager at the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Strader said an Arctic Front is predicted to move in over Northern and Interior Alaska this weekend, bringing much lower temperatures and precipitation every or every other day. This could be the typical “end of summer” weather pattern, Strader said.

“I think we’ll see enough rain to settle things down across the state,” Strader said during the daily morning AICC fire weather briefing. “The talk of snow is there and this is likely to be the end of our big summer weather.”

Snow is already in elevations above 5,000 feet in the southern Brooks Range.

However, how much of that precipitation will reach the deeper ground layers in the Yukon Flats was still undetermined, Strader said.

“Most stations should pick up a little rain from this, even in the Yukon Flats,” she said.

Contact BLM Alaska Fire Service Public Affairs Specialist Beth Ipsen at (907)356-5510 or eipsen@blm.gov for more information.

Map of red fire perimeters in the Yukon Flats with three communities of Venetie on the left side, Fort Yukon at the bottom and Chalkyitsik in the bottom right.
Map of fires in the Yukon Flats in relation to Venetie (left side of map), Fort Yukon (at bottom) and Chalkyitsik (bottom right) on Aug. 4, 2022.

Categories: Active Wildland Fire, AK Fire Info, BLM Alaska Fire Service

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