AD Main Menu

Firefighters sent Outside as slow wildfire season persists in Alaska

Jerzy Shedlock
An airplane prepares to drop retardant on a fire burning on the edge of Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014. The Funny River Fire was the largest so far of 2014 in Alaska, burning an estimated 196,000 acres. Loren Holmes photo

Alaska firefighters are having a slow year. Besides two notable wildfires early in the season, rainfall statewide has kept Hotshots, initial attack crews and others watching and waiting. But as fire potential grew in the Lower 48, Alaskans were sent to help.

Two 20-person type-2 initial attack crews from Alaska are currently battling the Carlton Complex fire northeast of Seattle. Those crews account for the majority of Alaska resources sent south, said Alaska Division of Forestry information officer Sam Harrel.

“All eyes are on the Carlton Complex,” Harrel said.

The Seattle Times reports that the more than 1,600 firefighters battling the wildfire have shifted their efforts to containment. The fire started last week and destroyed homes in the town of Pateros on the banks of the Columbia River.

Cooler temperatures and moderate winds are allowing crews to go on the offensive against the growing 380-square-mile fire, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center.

In addition, the Alaska Fire Service sent the Midnight Sun and Chena interagency Hotshot crews to fight the Whiskey Complex fire in Idaho. Several supervisors and 26 smokejumpers are deployed to various locations, Harrel said.

He added that the Pioneer Peak Hotshot crew is headed back from Canada’s Northwest Territories.

Fire activity in Alaska has been minimal this summer. Rain has and continues to drench most of the state, and there are currently no firefighters assigned to wildfires in Alaska, said Mel Slater, the Bureau of Land Management's Alaska Fire Service spokesperson.

Slater said two notable fires have happened in Alaska so far in 2014. The massive Funny River Horse Trail fire began on May 17. Authorities determined the fire was human-caused, but the initial belief that an abandoned campfire sparked it turned out to be false. By the time the blaze finally quieted in mid-June, about 196,000 acres had burned.

The second was the 100 Mile Creek fire, which burned a significantly smaller area at 23,270 acres. The fire was the result of a prescribed burn in the Donnelly Training Area, an army training and testing installation south of Delta Junction, on May 13.

However, Slater contends a substantial fire season never materialized. That’s not to say fires aren't burning statewide.

As of Monday, 317 fires have blackened 227,284 acres in Alaska, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center. Human activity accounts for the majority of the fires.