Alaska fire season begins with almost two dozen human-caused blazes

A large tundra fire seen from the air
The Kwethluk fire photographed during a flyover on April 18, 2022. (Matt Snyder/Alaska Division of Forestry)

Alaska’s fire season is in full swing. As of Wednesday afternoon, there have been 25 fires so far this year — 11 of those were discovered this week.

All but two of these early season fires were ignited by human activity, according to Beth Ipsen, spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service. So far only about 20 acres has burned.

“There was a fire that escaped from a burn barrel, there was one on a shooting range on Chena Hot Springs Road. And then a couple others like campfires,” Ipsen said on Talk of Alaska Tuesday morning.

Dead grasses and plant debris exposed by melting snow are prime fire start material. Fire managers are encouraging Alaskans to be careful with possible ignition sources, such as chainsaws or ATVs, and to ready homes for fire season by moving firewood stacks away from buildings and clearing brush away from properties.

While this year’s heavy snowpack and cold spring pushed back the start to fire season in many parts of the state, climate change is generally causing an earlier snowmelt, said climatologist Rick Thoman.

“We’ve lengthened the wildfire season. Just last year, we had the Kwethluk fire that burned over 10,000 acres in April, in the very early start to the fire season in Southwest Alaska,” he said.

Thoman also noted that with climate warming, lightning is becoming more frequent in some areas, including Southwest Alaska. Data shows that humans typically cause more fires in Alaska than lightning, but lightning-caused fires account for the vast majority of acres burned.  

Kavitha George is Alaska Public Media’s climate change reporter. Reach her at Read more about Kavitha here.

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