The Upper Talarik Fire in Southwest Alaska has caused significant damage at the site of the controversial Pebble Mine project northwest of Iliamna.
The fire is part of a group of fires that officials are calling the “Lime Complex.” The flames burned through Pebble’s supply camp over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, according to Mike Heatwole, a spokesperson for the Pebble Limited Partnership. He said the mine had stored equipment for exploration at the camp.
Despite the material damage, Heatwole said, no one was injured at the supply camp.
The Alaska Division of Forestry said, as of Wednesday, the fire covered nearly 8,000 acres.
Heatwole described the damage of supplies as a “near total loss.”
“What used to be a very colorful tundra landscape is now quite charred. Most of what we had there has burned up — in some cases, tents, canvas tents, supported by metal. The metal, you know, got quite hot and collapsed,” he said. “So it’s not really salvageable.”
The fire also burned wooden pallets and railroad ties used to minimize the impact of drilling, along with tools to maintain the site’s equipment, Heatwole said.
Pebble sent some workers to the site on Thursday, and the company is still working with fire managers to take stock of the fire’s impact, Heatwole said, adding that they don’t know yet how much this will affect Pebble’s operations long term.
Kale Casey, public information officer with the Incident Management Team, says this year’s fire season is unprecedented.
“We reached 1 million acres of wildfire-impacted landscape 10 days before we ever have in the recorded history of Alaska,” he said.
Heatwole emphasized how much the Pebble Partnership appreciates the team’s response to the fires.
“It’s a fire, it’s devastating, but it’s just things, right? There was no one harmed. And that’s a much better story,” he said.
Casey said more information will be made public once a thorough assessment has been done.