ANCHORAGE Alaska’s wildfire season got off to an early start this year with more than 4,800 acres of spruce forest ablaze Tuesday, and authorities warned low water levels and high temperatures could mean a tough fire season ahead for the western United States.
The earliest major fire in recent memory on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage stared last week when a downed power line ignited a patch of sun-dried dead grasses near the seaside town of Homer.
Although snowfall over the winter was about average in the area, the snow pack melted quickly and, over recent days, the site was baked by record-setting warm weather.
“When the sun comes out in the afternoon and dries the fuel, it’s ready to burn,” said John See, a regional fire management officer for the Division of Forestry.
The fire has also been fueled by vast amounts of beetle-killed spruce, said Kris Eriksen, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Division of Forestry.
Scientists have tied the abundance of beetle-killed trees to a warming climate, which has also been blamed for the increasing frequency of wildfires across the United States in recent years.
Washington state declared a drought emergency in March, saying that unusually low winter snowfalls in the Cascades left rivers on both sides of the mountain range flowing at record-low levels.
Compounding the problem in Alaska and other states is the lack of National Guard troops, who are usually directed to fight fires but have been deployed to Iraq.