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Lightning sparked dozens of new wildfires across Alaska over the weekend

  • Author: Chris Klint
  • Updated: July 8, 2016
  • Published June 27, 2016

10,292 lightning strikes were recorded across Alaska between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on June 26, 2016, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center. (Courtesy Alaska Interagency Coordination Center)

Thousands of lightning strikes over the weekend, especially in northern Alaska, have given wildfire crews more than three dozen new fires to contain and track, including at least three near Huslia.

According to Sunday posts on the Alaska Wildland Fire Information blog, maintained by the federal Bureau of Land Management's Alaska Fire Service, about 18,000 new lightning strikes were reported across the state from Friday through Sunday evening, including 10,292 in a 12-hour period from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

"By 10 p.m. Sunday, there were an estimated 37 new fires reported throughout the state including a few false alarms," fire officials wrote. "Initial attack suppression efforts are underway on several fires with more discoveries anticipated Monday."

Alaska Fire Service spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said in an email Monday morning that numerous tasks remained for fire crews in the wake of the weekend's lightning.

"Things will be changing a little bit today as we add more crews to some fires, fly other fires to see where they're burning and check other areas that recorded lightning strikes to see if anything ignited," Ipsen wrote.

The fire service reported 24 of the new fires are within the service's jurisdiction, with at least four new fires being actively fought by firefighters Sunday.

"Five loads of smokejumpers were dispatched to five different fires at different times Sunday," fire officials wrote.

Eight of those smokejumpers, supported by a pair of CL-415 tanker aircraft, were fighting the High Creek and First Creek fires near the Hozanga Mine, about 9 miles north of the Koyukuk River in the Huslia area.

"The larger of the two fires, the High Creek Fire, was reported at 20 acres with continuous black spruce all the way to the mine that was three miles to the north," fire officials wrote. "The smokejumpers and water scoopers were busy Sunday with suppression efforts and constructing protection measures in case the fire can't be caught."

More smokejumpers, as well as four smaller Fire Boss tanker planes, were fighting the Bergman Creek fire near Allakaket, which was first reported by a resident of the village. Additional crews were expected to join firefighting efforts there Monday.

The Iniakuk Lake fire, initially reported by an area resident through Brooks Range Aviation, was about a mile from structures including the Iniakuk Lake Lodge but separated from them by a ridge.

"The fire was reported to be about 15 acres and burning 43 miles west of Bettles," fire officials wrote. "Eight smokejumpers were deployed to the fire and, with the help of intermittent storms, successfully secured the perimeter."

Most of the remaining fires are in remote areas and being monitored, including the 5,000-acre Dulbi Flats fire, 21 miles northeast of Huslia and 14 miles north across the Koyukuk River from the High Creek and First Creek fires. An overflight determined that no structures were threatened, but the fire was "burning aggressively toward the east" Sunday with several land allotments in the area.

The fire service said more than 300 people were still assigned Sunday to mopping up the 818-acre Tetlin River fire being fought by the Alaska Division of Forestry; the fire is now 50 percent contained. Crews are being transferred from the fire, which was first spotted June 17 about 20 miles south of Tok, but a temporary flight restriction remains in place over the area.

According to the Division of Forestry's Facebook page, crews also got "some help from Mother Nature in the form of rain" Sunday with two fires in the Chatanika area north of Fairbanks.

The lightning-caused 40-acre Poker Creek fire, roughly 25 miles north of Fairbanks and 4 miles northwest of the Steese Highway, had two-thirds of its perimeter ringed with retardant. The 1.5-acre Fairbanks Creek fire, believed to be human-caused, was fully boxed in with retardant pending the arrival of an attack crew.

Ipsen said Monday that the Fairbanks-area fires had been "significantly moderated" due to rainfall, with hail reported in the vicinity of Murphy Dome.

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