Wildfire activity escalates in Alaska with 20 new fires Monday

a house with smoke billowing behind it
Wildfires burning south of Lime Village in July, 2022. (Gannett Glacier’s Bryan Quimby/Alaska Incident Management Team)

Wildfire activity continues to escalate in Alaska as the state logged more than 20 new fires Monday, raising the number of active fires to 214. Thousands of lightning strikes were again detected across a wide area, from Southcentral to the Interior to northern Alaska. 

Among lighting-caused fires that started Monday were two in the Delta Junction area. State Forestry fire information officer Sam Harrell said the Gold Hub Fire and the Gilles Creek Fire are in full fire suppression zones near the Pogo Gold Mine north of Delta Junction. Both fires were hit with retardant and water drops. 

“And a lot of this aerial effort is just to slow them down and check them up until we can get crews in there to do some work,” Harrell said. 

Harrell said the Gold Hub Fire is located along Shaw Creek Road, which goes to the Pogo Mine. 

“It’s gonna have an impact on mine traffic,” he said.

The Gold Hub Fire was estimated at 1,000 acres on Monday night.

“Its rapidly spreading,” said Harrell. “Its fuel driven. A lot of black spruce up there, and its working its way through the black spruce pretty good.”

With so many fires burning across the state, Harrell said many in remote areas are only being monitored.

“And then give them attention when they start to move onto values at risk, whether its timber, Native allotments, cabins out in the woods — so it’s a lot of monitoring and making decisions about where our resources are gonna best be served,” he said. 

Longer-term responses continue on about a dozen other fires. The largest operation is on the over 50,000-acre Clear Fire west of Anderson, where fire behavior analyst Forest Ownbey says burn activity has increased the last couple of days.

“Any time that the sky clears and the smoke leaves, and the clouds leave or dissipate, our fire behavior increases, meaning that we have trees that start to torch, fire starts to spread faster,” he said.    

Ownbey said one of the more active parts of the fire is west of the Kobe Ag Road turn-off and Clear Space Force Station.  

“As you keep going south along the Teklanika River, the fire has a big head going south there where a lot of activity has continued to move toward the Alaska Range, going south there but staying lower on the foothills. It hasn’t really started climbing,” he said.  

Ownbey said protective measures include cutting lines with bulldozers and preparing properties in case flames get past them.

“In the city of Anderson, they’re going around a lot of the structures and trying to remove some of the fuels, so the trees — you limb them up, you space them out a little bit, so if the fire comes through it won’t destroy the homes and all of that,” he said.    

A Tuesday morning update says the Clear Fire is about 6 miles from the City of Anderson. Ownbey said activity is expected to moderate over the next couple of days as higher humidity and slightly cooler temperatures are forecast. 

Evacuation notices remain in effect for some areas surrounding the Clear Fire, but Denali Borough Mayor Clay Walker said it’s unclear how many people have left.  

“There’s some in the ‘Go’ area who are actively preparing their properties and creating more defensibility and they’re others who have left and, you know, we are not tracking individuals. It’s kind of an area where there’s folks who live there year-round and folks who have cabins there and come and go,” he said. 

Walker emphasized that no one is being forced to evacuate but says those who remain in the “Go” area are doing so at their own risk. He said there’s been little use of the Nenana and Tri-Valley schools as evacuation sites.

“A lot of Alaskans have other options, from pulling their camper out and going camping for a while, or staying with friends, or we know some people have gone up to Fairbanks,” he said. “I think people are employing other option than staying at a school.”

Walker said the Clear Fire does not seem to be impacting tourism, as smoke has been intermittent at Denali National Park to the south, and visitor numbers are up. He thanked the firefighters working the Clear Fire, noting that despite its growth, no structures have been destroyed.  

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.