Rain in Interior Alaska has not been nearly enough to stop wildfires, officials say

A firefighter stands watch over a fire burning in trees near a structure
A firefighter stands watch on the Clear Fire while crews conduct burnout operations to protect a structure (Cody Platz/Northwest Team 10)

Intense thunderstorms moved through parts of central and eastern Interior Alaska on Sunday night.

Severe thunderstorm warnings were issued for remote areas northeast of Minto and south of Ester. National Weather Service meteorologist Kaitlyn Lardeo said the radar signature for the second storm indicated extreme conditions.

“We were looking at quarter-sized hail and also 60 MPH wind gusts through it,” said Lardeo.

Lardeo said the Weather Service would like to hear from anyone who experienced the storms.

“Anybody who could have been under those warning areas,” she said. “Any campers or anything like that.”

Lardeo said there’s potential for severe thunderstorm activity again later Monday followed by cooler, wetter weather as the week progresses.

“There’s going to be a front that kinda moves through from the northwest, from the Arctic coast down to the Interior, the next couple days,” said Lardeo. “That’s going to help to supply slightly cooler temperatures, as well as increase in precipitation chance across the area.”   

Meanwhile, with many thousands of lightning strikes over the last 24 hours, and gusty winds, red flag wildfire danger warnings remain in effect for a large area of the central and eastern Interior. Fire information officer Jose Acosta said the state set a red flag record on Sunday.

“It was the 10th consecutive day of red flag warnings and that surpassed a nine-day run in 2015,” he said.

Acosta said that the rain showers have not been nearly enough to stop the wildfires.

“It’s still staying far drier than we would like because of the underlying moisture conditions in the soil and the trees and then the fuels,” he said.

Over 2.6 million acres have burned so far this season, and there are more than 250 active fires across the state. As of early Monday, 17 were being fought, including the Minto Lakes Fire north of Fairbanks where information officer Derek Tisinger said the blaze ignited three spot fires south of the Chatanika River over the weekend.

 “With the aviation support including fire boss aircraft and helicopters, firefighters were able to pick up the spots and deploy hose around them,” said Tisinger.

Tisinger said firefighters also continued to assess and protect 63 threatened structures along the river, the Himalaya and Hayes Creek subdivisions and the Native allotments on the fire’s southwest side.

More than 280 people are working the Minto Lakes Fire, which has burned more than 36,000 acres. Lightning ignited the fire June 21.

Crews also continue to work on the Clear Fire, which made a run at Interior communities last week and, according to The Associated Press, burned at least one home. The fire is nearly 70,000 acres and was also started by lightning last month.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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