Alaska News

Thousands of lightning strikes reported around Alaska, sparking new wildfires

PALMER — Thunderstorms produced thousands of lightning strikes around Alaska on Sunday, adding several new fires in Southcentral to the state’s growing tally this season.

Large thunderheads could be seen rising over the Chugach and Talkeetna mountains on Sunday afternoon. The National Weather Service issued a warning of strong thunderstorms capable of producing nickel-size hail, “brief heavy downpours” and frequent lightning.

A dozen small fires were reported by Monday morning, including five in Mat-Su and on the Kenai.

Fire officials said they were monitoring a small, lightning-started fire west of Willow after several strikes in the area Sunday, including one at the Willow airport.

An air tanker from Fairbanks on Sunday dropped retardant on the Susitna Fire north of Deshka Landing while authorities brought in fire crews, according to an update. A 10-person team was working Monday on the ground to secure the fire’s edge after helicopter water drops reduced activity late Sunday, officials said. They estimated the fire’s size at just 1 acre as of Monday.

Fire crews also halted a small fire on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge after multiple lightning strikes in the area, refuge officials said in a Facebook post Sunday. Denali National Park and Preserve officials on Saturday reported a lightning-caused fire burning north of the Alaska Range.

Sunday’s lightning strikes included a heavy concentration in Southwest Alaska, according to state fire officials. While some storms brought wetting rains, the precipitation missed several of the more than 100 active fires across the state.


By Monday, 31 actives fires burned in Southwest Alaska alone, fire officials said in an update. The continued warm, dry weather with scattered storms in the region brings a high potential for “holdover” fires caused by lightning strikes that start and smolder before springing to life, Division of Forestry fire spokesman Sam Harrell said Monday.

“We’re still experiencing the longest solar days of our year,” Harrell said. “A little bit of sunshine, a little bit of breeze, that fire from a lightning strike Saturday or Sunday could rekindle into a fire today.”

By Sunday afternoon, 100 active wildfires were burning in Alaska, including 19 new starts in a 24-hour period, many in Northwest Alaska, according to the Bureau of Land Management Fire Service. All told around the state, as of Monday morning 224 fires had burned more than 116,000 acres including just over 50,260 acres in one fire alone: the McDonald Fire burning southeast of Fairbanks since June 8.

Two other fires about 15 miles northwest of Fairbanks have merged into one known as the Clear Fire, which was reported at just over 8,600 acres as of midday Monday, according to BLM fire officials. More hot, dry weather with the potential for isolated thunderstorms was in the forecast through Wednesday, they said.

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