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Fire danger high across much of Alaska

Tegan Hanlon,Zaz Hollander
Wildfire-induced haze darkens the Alaskan sky above the Susitna river on July 19, 2012. Loren Holmes photo

Update: 9:30 a.m. Wednesday

Dry, windy conditions have prompted the state Division of Forestry in Palmer to extend a ban on open burning to the entire Matanuska Valley.

That means no bonfires celebrating high-school graduations this week, officials say. 

Open burning is no longer permitted from Chickaloon to Talkeetna, fire management officer Norm McDonald said. State fire managers on Tuesday announced a burn suspension from Meadow Lakes to Talkeetna to cover the Susitna Valley.

Central Mat-Su Fire Department crews this morning responded to an unattended burn pile, McDonald said. State and local crews are on alert, he said. “Right now we’re staffed fairly heavy. We’ve got the air tankers on, the helicopter on. We’ve got a crew positioned.” 

Update9 a.m. Wednesday

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough has issued an air quality advisory for areas with blowing dust, including Palmer, Wasilla and the Butte, from 8 a.m. today until winds subside. The air quality in these areas may become unhealthy to hazardous, the borough says. 

Children, the elderly and people with heart or lung disease should stay inside and reduce physical activity. The general population should avoid vigorous outdoor activity. Daily information on air quality is available by calling 907-352-3878. 

Original Story:

Warm temperatures, dry weather and gusty winds triggered wildfire-danger warnings and burn bans Tuesday for a broad swath of the state. 

The National Weather Service issued warnings from Bristol Bay to Fairbanks, the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage and the Sustina Valley. A red flag warning means “critical fire weather conditions are imminent or occurring,” according to the weather service. In other words, conditions are right for wildfires to spark and spread.

As a precaution, Anchorage fire officials temporarily outlawed fire pits, campfires and chimineas starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday. That ban will continue until further notice, said John See, forester with the Anchorage Fire Department. 

The only thing residents can ignite outside, without risking a fine, is a barbecue grill, said John See, forester with the Anchorage Fire Department. 

See said if flames escape from the backyard fires it’s likely they’ll just keep burning, quickly moving through the parched grass and dry air. On Saturday, a lit cigarette left on a bike trail set about 1,000 square feet of grass and forested land aflame near Dimond High School, he said. 

“If they need to smoke they need to smoke inside or be careful of how they discard their cigarettes,” See said. 

From 10 a.m. Wednesday until midnight, Anchorage remains under a red flag warning for fire danger. Forecasters say wind gusts may reach up to 25 mph along the hillside with temperatures between 63 and 67 degrees and relative humidity as low as 15 percent. 

State agencies have banned open burning on the Kenai Peninsula, around Tok, in the Fairbanks area, and in parts of the Mat-Su Borough: West Lakes, Big Lake, Houston and all fire-service areas north to Talkeetna. 

Michael Lawson, a meteorologist with the weather service, said he expects the warm and dry weather to persist in Southcentral for much of the week with precipitation possible on Sunday. 

But until rain falls, See said, “We’re kind of holding our breath.” 

Contact Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com or Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@adn.com.