2023 Alaska wildfire outlook – dry again in Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta

Fire managers utilize both national and local experts and data to predict trends, and remind public to help prevent human caused fires.

Alaska Interagency Coordination Center’s early season wildfire outlook is now available. To summarize the complete report, normal fire potential is expected in Alaska in March and through June, except for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, where above normal potential exists in April and May. According to AICC’s Fire Weather Program Manager Heidi Strader, “It does look like a potential busy early season out on the Y-K Delta due to low snowpack. Keep in mind that we have few indicators to tell us how mid-summer will be at this point. For some of the more populated corridors around South Central and parts of the Interior, it’s more about fuels, wind events, and human activity.” Fire managers and firefighters use these monthly local and national outlooks to get a feel for how the wildfire season might play out. As a reminder, reducing the number of human-caused fires in Alaska will not only provide a safer environment for the public and firefighters, but it will also assist with reducing the loss of structures, property damage, and fire suppression costs.  

  • Alaska 2023 Predictive Services Outlook
  • A graphic image of Alaska's 2023 Predictive Services wildfire potential outlook
  • Duff-Driven Season - Alaska's 2023 Predictive Services wildfire potential outlook
  • Alaska's Seasonal Wildfire acreage

A typical fire season in Alaska sees approximately 500 wildfires that burn an estimated 650,000 acres. Every year more than 60 percent of these fires are human-caused as a result of the careless or negligent use of fire which escapes from burn barrels, campfires, burn piles and more. These human-caused fires threaten communities, property owners, and businesses throughout Alaska. In 2022 there were 289 human and 281 lightning caused wildfires.

Alaska has been experiencing significant sunshine in March. April will bring the first early-season human ignitions to low-lying areas of the state as the snowpack retreats. In May, the threat of more significant wildfires will increase toward the end of the month, and by June the season will be moving into the busiest part of the fire season, which is normal. 

At the beginning of March, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows no drought in Alaska, while the Snow Water Equivalent since October 1st is near normal in areas where it is recorded. The Climate Prediction Center calls for a slightly warmer and wetter spring for western and northern Alaska, while the forecast for Southeast indicates cooler and drier conditions. In the longer term, a potential transition from La Niña to El Niño by summer could increase wildfire potential. Large acreage fire seasons in Alaska are generally paired with El Niño summers, but this correlation is weak at best.

As of March 1st, fire activity in Alaska was non-existent with a thick blanket of snow for most of the state. Areas with little snow are generally coastal with cool and damp conditions, and fuels are not burnable. Ample precipitation has fallen across much of Alaska during the fall and early winter, and no areas of the state are in drought status as of late January. However, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta has a below normal snowpack as much of their winter precipitation has come in the form of rain instead of snow.

In April, the snow will begin to melt out at lower elevations, cured fine fuels from the previous season are exposed, and wind-driven grass fires become possible. By the end of May, the snowpack will retreat to the North Slope and the highest elevations of the Interior, setting the stage for mid-June to be the start of the busiest part of the fire season, which is normal for Alaska.

Much like last season, the low snowpack in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta may lead to increased potential for a busier early fire season there, with human starts the most likely source of new ignitions. However, early-season lightning may lead to ignitions in more remote areas of the far west, creating more challenging fire management considerations during the time of year that resources are still preparing. Overall, expect a normal fire season across Alaska through June, with the chance for above normal conditions in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in April and May.

Everyone in Alaska is encourage to do their part and work to prevent human caused fires this spring and summer. Following burn permit regulations, utilizing woody debris drop off locations, and finishing pile or debris burning right now when there is plenty of snow on the ground are all important steps you can take.

"Take Time To LEARN Before You Burn"
“Take Time To LEARN Before You Burn”

Categories: AK Fire Info, Alaska DNR - Division of Forestry (DOF), Fire Prevention

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