Alaska’s first large wildfire of the season is burning 25 miles east of Kwethluk. Officials said on Monday that the fire was not threatening villages, but it was threatening the Kwethluk fish weir and two Native allotments.
On Monday evening, April 18, the Alaska Division of Forestry said the fire had grown to 4,048 acres.
According to forestry division spokesperson Kale Casey, it’s the state’s largest wildfire so far this season. The cause is unknown, but Casey said tundra fires in April are not uncommon.
“When you have a long, big, deep winter, like we had in Alaska, areas are dried out and getting these 16 hour days and 17 hour days of sunlight, that you’re gonna have that possibility,” he said.
Casey said that as the spring snow melts, the sun dries out the dead, brown vegetation, turning it into kindling. That kindling can quickly ignite and become a tundra fire.
The Alaska Division of Forestry said it plans to investigate the cause of the fire.
Commercial pilots first spotted smoke from the tundra blaze on April 16 at noon and reported it to the state. A pilot and firefighter from the Alaska Division of Forestry’s fire prevention branch flew over the fire on April 16 and April 17.
Casey said that although the fire is threatening two Native allotments and a fish weir, it is not expected to endanger villages or lives. After hearing reports that the fire was moving westward toward Three Step Mountain, the division flew over the fire again on April 18.