Alaska firefighters hustle after lightning sparks 80 wildfires statewide

a wildfire
The 187-acre Champion Fire is burning on Table Mountain in the White Mountain National Recreational Area. (Chris Bixby/Alaska Fire Service)

Wednesday was another busy day for firefighters in the Interior, as more lightning-caused wildfires were detected. Many of the new blazes are in remote locations and being allowed to burn, but several are being actively fought.

There were over 30,000 lightning strikes in Alaska Monday through Wednesday, and 80 new wildfires bumped the number of acres burned from about 1,500 to nearly 11,000.

Fires southwest of Allakaket, and off the Steese and Elliot Highways are being worked by the federal Alaska Fire Service. The state Division of Forestry and Fire Protection is attending to several others, including a new lightning-caused fire along the Teklanika River southwest of Nenana. State fire information officer Sam Harrel says there are cabins along the river corridor.

“And then of course the Parks Highway on the other side, Anderson, Clear, and the Space Force radar station,” he said.

Harrel says the Teklanika fire was hit hard from the air with water and retardant drops late Wednesday, but it will need more attention due to area forest conditions including densely packed bands of black spruce.

“Aerial resources won’t do that alone,” he said. “We need to get crews in there and we are mobilizing and headed that way.”

Harrel says recent hot weather has dried out trees and surface vegetation, making them susceptible to burning when hit by lightning, but the lingering effects of wet early summer weather are so far slowing fire spread.

“Those lower layers or duff are just too damp to carry a fire and give it the energy to grow,” he said.

Harrel says another round of thunderstorms started additional wildfires Wednesday night, continuing a three-day trend that’s drawing down in state resources.

“We’ve sent some resources to Canada to help,” Harrel said. “We’ve sent some resources to the Northwest areas to help, and we might need to be recalling some of those.”

Alaska Fire Service spokesperson Beth Ipsen said Tuesday that other significant fires being fought included the Champion Fire in the White Mountains Recreation Area.

“This is kind of a priority for us, because on the 1st, which is (next) Tuesday, there is a federal subsistence Fortymile caribou hunt opening,” Ipsen said.

Ipsen says the fire burning near Mile 50 of the Steese Highway near Nome Creek was reported Tuesday.

“So we are mobilizing the Midnight Sun Hotshots to go out there, because we don’t want that fire impacting the hunt,” she said.

a map of wildfires
The 75-acre Deep Creek Fire was spotted Tuesday by a pilot headed to the 25-acre McCoy Creek Fire, 10 miles to the southwest. Both wildfires are located along the Salcha River. (Alaska Division of Forestry and Fire Protection)

Division of Forestry spokesperson Lily Coyle says the other priority wildfire reported Tuesday is the 75-acre Deep Creek Fire near Salcha, that was spotted by a pilot working the McCoy Creek Fire, 10 miles away.

“We were able to get some of the BLM smokejumpers in on the ground,” she said, “and the aerial resources were just making repeated water and retardant drops.”

Coyle said Tuesday that Forestry dispatched aircraft and crews to keep the fire from spreading to nearby cabins. And she says the 25-acre McCoy Creek Fire hasn’t grown since Monday.

“We still have firefighters working on that fire and working on structure protection,” she said. “But a lot of the aviation resources did go and respond to the close-by Deep Creek Fire.”

Also Tuesday, Forestry sent a Tanana Chiefs initial-attack crew to the 6-Mile Pogo Fire that’s burned six acres in an area near the Pogo mine access road north of Delta Junction. Coyle says it’s considered a priority fire.

“That is in a full-management zone,” she said, “so that is currently staffed and there’s helicopters working on that.”

Coyle says Forestry is monitoring another nearby wildfire — the Pogo Mine Road Fire that’s burning farther up the road toward the mine.

a wildfire
Smoke from another lightning-ignited wildfire, the 11.5-acre Moose Fire near Minto, has been blowing across the Elliott Highway around Mile 100. (Christopher Carr/Alaska Fire Service)

Ipsen said smokejumpers have made progress on the 11.5-acre Moose Fire, near Mile 100 of the Elliott Highway.

“The smokejumpers got a good handle on it (Monday) night, got a line around it and now they’re mopping up,” she said.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a second air-quality advisory Tuesday that says smoke from the wildfires in Alaska and Canada likely will continue to blanket areas of the state over the next few days. The advisory also says the smoke could be unhealthy for people who have respiratory and other health problems.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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