ANCHORAGE – Forest fires have seared more than 1 million acres (400,000 hectares) across Alaska so far this summer, although cool rains have slowed the blazes in parts of the state’s vast interior, officials said. The area burned so far is above average for recent years but not unusual. In 1997, wildfires burned about 2 million acres (800,000 hectares) in Alaska and 3.1 million acres (1.2 million hectares) went up in smoke in 1990.
As of Friday, 66 wildfires were still smouldering around the state, but no new blazes were reported, the result of a change in the weather, said the federal-state Alaska Fire Information Centre.
“The weather has turned from dry to wet,” said Andy Williams, spokesman for the centre.
Most of the large fires in the interior of the state had run their course as of Friday, and specialised firefighting crews were released this week from active Alaska duty to work on blazes in the lower 48 states, Williams said.
The fires, which grew to as much as about 250,000 acres (100,000 hectares) in size, were mostly caused by lightning and were burning in areas distant from population centres.
Many large Alaska wildfires are allowed to burn without suppression and are considered part of the natural cycle of the far-north forest, Williams said.
“It’s just sort of the natural way that a forest regenerates itself,” he said.
But firefighters remained on alert is south central Alaska, the most populated part of the state, said John See, regional forestry manager at the state Department of Natural Resources.
High fire danger continues in the area because of vast stretches of spruce trees killed by a beetle outbreak, See said. Because of that, forestry officials in south central Alaska have encouraged residents to clear out dead trees near their homes and douse fires quickly, he said.