Alaska’s wildfire season is off to a historically low start

firefighters outside near a dirt road
The North Star Fire Crew clears brush around power poles on the road between St. Mary’s and Pitka’s Point on June 11, 2022. The crew is made up of firefighters in training from around the country. (Katie Basile/For KYUK)

Alaska wildfire managers have seen the least-ever acreage burned at this point in the summer, as damp and cool conditions have persisted across much of the state.

Just over 1,300 acres have burned, compared to the over 3.1 million acres that burned last year. That’s the lowest ever recorded by the first week of July.

The lowest amount of acreage burned statewide in a summer was 9,500 in 2008, though accurate records only go back to 1993.

“We are at the lowest total acreage, the lowest total acreage statewide that we have ever seen at this time of year,” said Heidi Strader, a fire weather program manager with the Interagency Coordination Center. “Usually we have about 10 times this kind of acreage going. Really, it’s incredibly low.”

For Southcentral Alaska, fire officials and National Weather Service meteorologists predict continued cold and wet conditions, which means that the region is likely to avoid major burns this year.

“If the bigger trees and the deeper organics have not had enough dry weather for them to dry out and become engaged in fire activity, then it’s very unlikely that we’re going to see a big season,” Strader said.

Without large fires to fight in-state, some Alaska wildland firefighting crews have been sent to Canada, which is experiencing a historic wildfire season.

A bar graph from Rick Thoman depicting the years with the least amount of acreage burned in wildfires.
Climate Specialist Rick Thoman’s graph depicting the lowest acreage burned in wildfires.

Some crews are staying in Alaska and taking advantage of the lack of fires to install 10 fuel breaks around fire-prone communities, said Lily Coyle, a public information officer with the state Division of Forestry and Fire Protection. Their goal is to cut 800 acres of fuel breaks this summer, she said.

“We’re working on fuel breaks in each Division of Forestry and Fire Protection area across the state, so it’s actually been a really productive summer for us and season for us and helping to proactively protect communities,” Coyle said. “It basically is setting them up for success to safely fight a fire and safely protect a community in the future, when wildland fire does move through the area.” 

Not every part of Alaska is expected to avoid wildfire danger. The largest fire currently burning in the state is near Delta Junction, and a Red Flag warning was issued Thursday for the Eastern Alaska Range and surrounding areas until Friday. 

Beth Ipsen, a spokesperson for the Alaska Fire Service, said that the persistent wet weather has prevented fires that have started from getting out of hand, but she warns against reckless behavior.

“While it’s been a really wet summer, there still is a chance that, you know if you’re careless with the fire, that you could start a wildfire that can be devastating,” Ipsen said.

For information on burn restrictions wherever you are in Alaska, visit dnr.alaska.gov/burn.

a portrait of a man outside

Tim Rockey is the producer of Alaska News Nightly and covers education for Alaska Public Media. Reach him attrockey@alaskapublic.orgor 907-550-8487. Read more about Timhere

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