Weather offers little aid to those fighting Alaska wildfires

WARM, DRY: Big minto flats fire threatens structures.

July 9, 2009 

The number of fires blowing smoke into Alaska skies continued to swell through the week as persisting warm and dry conditions have offered firefighters little assistance in smothering them, according to the state Division of Forestry.

The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center received 11 new reports of fires Wednesday. About 375 fires have burned 678,000 acres this year. Twelve of the 71 active fires across the state were staffed with firefighters.

At 134,000 acres, the Minto Flats South fire burning near Nenana is the largest in the state. It continued to threaten nearly 70 structures and outbuildings, though none was in immediate danger, forestry division spokesman Matt Weaver said.

Firefighters were continuing defensive efforts to protect cabins and other property along the Tanana and Kantishna rivers, but if weather and conditions allow, firefighters hope to go on the offensive against the blaze soon, Weaver said.

The forestry division reported that the Doyon Arctic Wolf gas drilling rig, which was also threatened by the fire's advance, has been equipped with firefighting gear and that rig operations were continuing.

A sprinkle of rain hit the fire late Wednesday as thunderstorms moved through, but the precipitation, measured at several hundredths of an inch, was only enough to slow, not stop, the fire, the forestry division said.

The National Weather Service was calling for warm and dry conditions in the area through the weekend, with low humidity and temperatures around 80 degrees.

Smoke from multiple fires, including the Minto Flats fire and the Shanta Creek fire on the Kenai Peninsula, have been blanketing Anchorage in a thick haze for days.

The Shanta Creek fire was estimated about 10,000 acres Thursday, and a national emergency management team was taking charge of the blaze. Helicopters were attacking that fire with buckets of water on its northern edge. The fire was burning about nine miles east of developed lands at Kasilof, according to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management.

The weather service was calling for the haze in Anchorage to remain in place into the weekend.

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