USA – Wildland fires dot the Arctic landscape this week after lightning strikes sparked a series of blazes on the dry tundra.
As the Sounder reported last week, the largest fire is located about 16 miles outside Point Hope. Dubbed the Tusikpak Lake Fire because of its proximity to the body of water, it had burned more than 14,000 acres as of early this week.
“The Tusikpak Lake Fire is a surface-burning grass fire,” said Alaska Fire Service Spokesperson Beth Ipsen on Tuesday. “They’re considered flashy fuels — meaning they burn quickly and for just a short period of time (like in a flash). The ground layers underneath the grass are still pretty wet and probably frozen in some places … It burns off the dead grass on the surface, but nothing underneath.”
Eight smokejumpers from Fort Wainwright responded to the fire in its early days, but left June 6, once the critical edges of the fire had been secured.
The fire had been threatening to spread south to a Native allotment located about 2 miles away, so the smokejumpers concentrated on ensuring the southern end of the fire was cold.
“In addition, they made sure that there were measures in place, such as burning a buffer of grass around the Native allotment that was the closest to the fire, to make sure that chunk of land is protected,” said Ipsen. “By burning a line around the Native allotment, smokejumpers remove any the burnable material (grass). When the fire reaches that point, it stops.”
As the fire is no longer heading toward any lands that need special protection, officials have pulled back and will allow it to run its course, though they’ll keep monitoring it.
“Fires like this are good for the land’s ability to regenerate,” said Ipsen. “Once it warms up there, the grass will grow back nicely.”
The Tusikpak Lake Fire is located in the Galena Zone, a fire service-designated area encompassing 93.5 million acres from Pilot Station to the North Slope.
As of Tuesday, two new fires had started in the Galena Zone, bringing the total number of fires in the area to 35. To date this year, wildland fires have burned more than 44,000 acres in the region.
The area around Buckland was rife with fires as of early this week. Located about 20 miles south of the village, the Fairhaven Creek Fire had burned about 1,900 acres. The Buckland River Fire had burned about 186 acres, while the Wasp Creek Fire had burned about 150 acres. All three were caused by lightning.
There are three active fires in Cape Krusenstern National Monument, as well. The so-called Omikviorok fires (the original, along with 2 and 3) had burned 113 acres, 76 acres and 2.3 acres, respectively, as of Tuesday.
The Rabbit River Fire, burning within the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge, had burned about 837 acres as of early this week. In Noatak National Preserve, the Tumit Creek Fire had burned 517 acres.
The Fishing Village Fire had burned about 318 acres on Golovin Native Corp. land, as well.
One of the largest fires in the area is the Deniktaw Ridge Fire which is about 20 miles south of Hughes. It measured about 8,500 acres on June 11, and there are currently 32 personnel responding.
“The fire continued to spread to the south and east with active fire behavior observed,” noted an Alaska Fire Service situation report on June 11. “The Northstar Crew and smokejumpers continued with point protection of the values at risk in the area which include two cabins, a radio tower and a mine equipment site. Efforts (Monday) focused on prepping the second cabin allotment and preparing the hoselay plan. The closest value at risk is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cabin on the Koyukuk River approximately 3.2 miles to the west of the fire.”
To date, no structures have been damaged in any of the Arctic fires, and no injuries have been reported.
The fire service cautions residents to practice good fire safety year-round, but to be especially careful when conditions are dry and there’s a lot of fuel on the ground in the form of brown grasses and plants.
To report a wildland fire, call 1-800-237-3633 or dial 911. You can get more fire information over the phone at 907-356-5511 or online at either fire.ak.blm.gov or akfireinfo.com.