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2015 Alaska wildfire season now 2nd biggest on record

  • Author: Asaf Shalev
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published August 10, 2015

Alaska has now seen 5.08 million acres burn so far this wildfire season, the second-largest number since records began 76 years ago.

This summer's acreage -- equivalent to nearly 8,000 square miles -- edged out 1957 but will likely fall far short of 2004, the record year when about 6.6 million acres went up in flames, officials say.

Fire official Sam Harrel said that as the dry season in Alaska comes to an end, the chances for lightning to strike and cause new blazes are much lower.

"Things are winding down," said Harrel, spokesperson with the Alaska Fire Service. "We have started our seasonal weather pattern of scattered rains."

He cautioned that Alaska could still see an increase in human-caused fires as the hunting season picks up.

About 238 wildfires continued to burn Monday, with the vast majority being allowed to take their course. Some 97 firefighters are focusing their efforts on protecting the village of Hughes from an advancing blaze along the Koyukuk River.

Alaska has now dispatched firefighting crews to help in Wyoming and northern California.

"The Lower 48 helped us a lot and it's now time to reciprocate," Harrel said. "Our fire season is coming to end as theirs is ratcheting up."

Western Alaska has proved persistently dry even while most of rest of the state has seen some rain. In the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge south of Aniak, for example, deep layers of peat, which usually hold water, are instead smoldering.

The burning of peat, or decayed plant matter accumulated in the soil, causes the release of carbon to the atmosphere, adding to concern about the role of fires in climate change. Another carbon stock scientists are keeping their eyes on as the fire seasons grow longer and more intense is the permafrost that underlies most of Alaska's forested land.

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