State’s wildfire season ‘largely uneventful,’ according to officials

The smoke plume of the Livingston Fire approximately 15 miles southwest of Fairbanks in the Rosie Creek area as seen from Mile 339 of the Parks Highway early Sunday evening. (Don Anderson/Alaska Division of Forestry)

A shed and an outhouse.

Those are the only structures that have burned in Alaska’s wildfire season this summer, according to officials.

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Wildfires have burned just 270,000 acres in the state this year. That’s far short of the 1.2 million acres that burn during a normal season.

“In the press release I’m just writing up, I used the word ‘largely uneventful,’” state Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry said.

The division is one of several state and federal agencies responsible for fighting wildfires in Alaska.

On Tuesday, those agencies said they’re sending 100 of Alaska’s wildland firefighters out-of-state. Five crews are flying to Idaho to be dispatched to fires around the Western U.S.

The main cause for this year’s slow fire season? Mowry says there haven’t been any long periods of hot, dry weather.

There have still been 288 fires in Alaska this year. And they’ve burned 425 square miles — more than a third of the area of Rhode Island.

But most of those fires have been far from densely populated areas.

Two blazes are currently getting serious attention from firefighters. They’re outside the tiny village of Chalkyitsik. That’s about 170 miles northeast of Fairbanks.

James Nathaniel is Chalkyitsik’s tribal administrator.

“Everybody was getting excited because you could actually see the smoke coming from the fire,” Nathaniel said.

Lightning started the two fires in early July.

Officials say the area where they’re burning, the Yukon Flats, is among the driest in the state. But firefighters are now making progress in getting them under control.

Even without fires threatening urban areas, the state has still budgeted about $23 million for firefighting and prevention this year.

Some crews have been fighting fires. Others have been working on projects to create barriers, to make it easier to stop fires when they start in the future.

Mowry said it’s worth paying to have crews on hand in case a major blaze breaks out.

“That’s how this business works is, you can’t just flip a switch and have people there, ready to go,” Mowry said. “There’s a lot of planning and training and everything every year that goes into this.”

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