Wildfire season takes off in Interior Alaska

Wildfire season takes off in Interior Alaska

27 May 2009

published by newsminer.com


A wildfire burning near McGrath grew from 500 to 5,000 acres overnight and was approaching the central Interior village on the Iditarod Trail at a rapid rate, though it’s burning on the opposite side of the Kuskokwim River.

“It’s still on the other side of the river but any time you have a community at risk and it’s made a run like it has from 500 to 5,000 acres in a day’s time, it’s cause for concern,” fire information officer Doug Stockdale at the Alaska Fire Service said of the Broken Snowshoe Fire.

A Type 2 management team was being moved in Tuesday to take over management of the fire, he said.

The fire started as a result of a lightning strike Sunday about 15 miles north of McGrath, but as of 4 p.m. Tuesday it was reported to be running and spotting in black spruce only three or four miles from the village, which is located about 270 miles southwest of Fairbanks.

There were about 85 firefighters battling the blaze and 20 loads of fire retardant had been dropped on the fire, Stockdale said.

Hot weather and low humidity continued to fuel several fires around the state on Tuesday as the temperature in Fairbanks approached the 80-degree mark for the third day in a row.

More than a dozen firefighters were working to contain a 1,000-acre fire about four miles north of Chicken on the Taylor Highway, Stockdale said. The Old Man Fire started Monday after a lightning strike and was reported by a lodge owner in Chicken who saw smoke.

The fire is located in a full suppression area and the state was able to call in air tankers from Canada to drop retardant on the fire as part of an agreement between Alaska and Canada, Stockdale said.

“It’s in a full suppression area so we’re going to try to contain it” he said.

The fire is close to a 2004 burn, which should reduce the amount of fuel but high winds and extremely low humidity in the area were posing problems, Stockdale said. The temperature hit 80 degrees on Sunday and Monday, and it was threatening to do so again on Tuesday with a reading of 76 degrees at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Temperatures are expected to drop and humidity will rise starting today throughout most of the Interior, meteorologist Daniel Robinson at the National Weather Service said.

“There’s a front over the west coast right now heading our direction,” Robinson said. “It’s not going to completely pass over us but it will push the warmest air off to the east and bring us back toward more normal temps.”

There is a “good shot” of some light rain falling during the next few days, he said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 25 active fires burning in the state and nine of them were being actively fought, according to statistics compiled by the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Three of the nine staffed fires had been contained, including the 8.5-acre Chatanika Lake fire about 15 miles northwest of Fox and a 2.5-acre fire two miles north of Harding Lake. Both fires were started by lightning strikes Saturday. Another fire in a full suppression zone near Fort Yukon, the 85-acre Canvasback Lake Fire, was also under control. That fire was human caused.

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