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Alaska News

About 150 firefighters sent Outside during Alaska’s relatively quiet fire season

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: July 14, 2017
  • Published July 14, 2017

About 150 Alaska firefighters traveled south last week to help with wildfires burning in other states, their time freed up because of a relatively quiet fire season here, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

As of Friday afternoon, 294 fires had burned about 400,000 acres of Alaska, roughly one-tenth of 1 percent of the state. During an average Alaska summer, about 500 fires scorch 1.2 million acres, said a statement from DNR.

Smoke rises on June 16 from the East Fork Fire in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. (Tim Whitsall / Alaska Division of Forestry)

Rain has helped keep this summer's fire season subdued, said Beth Ipsen, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service.

"When we have a high fire season, a lot of the time it's because of dry lightning," she said. "A lot of the lightning we've received this year — especially in Southcentral — also had a lot of rain."

During the summer of 2016, the acreage burned in Alaska was also "well below normal levels," the Division of Forestry said at the time. That year, 558 wildfires burned about 500,000 Alaska acres.

It followed a particularly hot and dry Alaska summer. In 2015, fires burned more than 5 million acres of land, the second-largest number since records began more than 75 years ago.

Spruce trees torch in the afternoon heat on June 15, 2015, in the area where the 1-day-old Sockeye fire started north of Kashwitna Lake. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)

On Friday, about 60 wildfires continued to burn across the state, only four of them staffed, and three of those in the northeast part of Alaska, Ipsen said.

"And that's only to provide protection," she said. "They're protecting Native allotments, cabins."

While rain has fallen across much of Alaska, Ipsen said the state's northeast corner remains hot and dry and the agency is concerned about it.

Smoke from those fires north of Fort Yukon and in Canada spread across much of Alaska, including Anchorage, on Thursday, Ipsen said.

A cold front was forecast to move into the northeast Interior Saturday night, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center. The front was expected to improve smoke conditions across the state and moderate fire activity on the fires burning east of the Sheenjek River and along the Canadian border.

"However, there will be continued areas of smoke until the fires in northeast Alaska and northwestern Canada get a large amount of rain," the coordination center said.

The 150 or so Alaska firefighters who traveled out of state last week went to fires burning in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, according to DNR. Ipsen said roughly 200 wildland firefighters with the Division of Forestry and the Alaska Fire Service remained in Alaska.

Ipsen said it's hard to say when the fire season ends in Alaska. Some years, it's not until the first snowfall.

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