Record-breaking temperatures across Southeast Alaska raise fire risk

An area of grass approximately 400 feet by 400 feet caught fire Sunday afternoon near the corner of Sunset Street and Alaska Avenue in Lemon Creek. (Photo courtesy of Capital City Fire/Rescue)
An area of grass approximately 400 square feet that caught fire last summer in Lemon Creek when warm, dry weather persisted. (Photo courtesy of Capital City Fire/Rescue)

Communities across Southeast Alaska saw record-breaking high temperatures over the weekend.

The warm, dry weather also means increased fire danger.

According to the National Weather Service, temperatures in Ketchikan, Craig and Juneau broke records on Saturday. Sitka and Hoonah saw new high temperatures Sunday, while Haines, Juneau and Petersburg tied their records. Yakutat hit new highs both days.

“We might have chances at some of the records today, but we’re keeping an eye on them,” meteorologist Brian Bezenek said Monday. On average, Bezenek said Juneau sees 17 days of 70 degrees or above each year.

But last year, the capital city had a record-setting 47 days with temperatures in that range.

“The average date for 70 degrees at the airport is May 28, based on our records that go back to the mid-1940s,” Bezenek said.

A weather station north of Ketchikan also recorded the first 80-degree temperature for the state this year on Saturday.

Bezenek said the dry weather should continue across Southeast until Wednesday, when clouds will start spreading north from the southern part of the Panhandle. Thursday should bring some moisture, but not enough to erase fire danger going into the weekend.

“We’re still not going to add a whole lot of precipitation yet, so the grasses will still be dry, it just won’t be as warm,” he said.

The National Weather Service issued a special weather statement Sunday warning of continued fire danger for the entire region due to warm temperatures and low humidity.

A wildfire broke out just north of Juneau on Saturday. More than 15 acres burned by the time Forest Service firefighters contained it.

The Alaska Division of Forestry is allowing controlled burns in Southeast communities despite a statewide suspension on permits, citing the region’s typically wet conditions.

A spokesperson for the division said it could still suspend permits for the panhandle if conditions are dry enough.

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