Wildfire in Katmai National Park grows to 3,500 acres

An aerial view of the Contact Creek Fire burning 40 miles southeast of King Salmon in a limited management area in Katmai National Park & Preserve. May 30, 2022. (National Park Service photo)

A private pilot reported a wildfire on Sunday night in Katmai National Park and Preserve, according to the National Park Service. The fire is currently smoldering and growing to the southeast, but it hasn’t damaged any infrastructure.

Officials say lightning likely caused the Contact Creek fire, which is burning in an uninhabited area about 40 miles southeast of King Salmon, on Lake Brooks.

Park Service Public Information Officer Caron McKee said residents of King Salmon may see smoke from the fire, which has spread across an estimated 3,439.

The fire is a mile and a half from a remote weather station.

“Crews have actually gone in and finished wrapping that weather station and protective structure wraps to protect it just in case the fire should reach it. That is at this point, the fire has not reached it.”

Crews with the park service and the Division of Forestry are monitoring the fire by air. But they’re not actively controlling it. Each national park has its own fire management plan. In Katmai, fires in areas without a lot of infrastructure are usually left to burn. And the Contact Creek fire is about 20 miles from the nearest Native allotment.

“The unique thing about Alaska is there’s so many areas where a fire might start that it’s just not near any infrastructure, and sometimes the fire can even be beneficial to the ecosystem,” she said. “So in those limited management areas, what they’ll do is monitor the fire and just make sure it’s not encroaching on any infrastructure but not actively suppress it. And then they can always change tactics if needed if the fire conditions were to change.

McKee said that this fire is burning tundra and grass, but that so far, it hasn’t burned that deep into the ground.

“The fire management officers that were observing it in the last couple of days described it as, it’s really only burning about the top three inches or so — the vegetation —so it’s really kind of staying at the surface.”

Hot and dry weather around Alaska has triggered Red Flag warnings and burn bans. In the Bristol Bay area, that weather is expected to continue into this weekend.

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