Alaska firefighters tackle a wave of Interior wildfires

a firefighter
Grafton Francis helps fight the Montana Creek Fire. (Kevin Lankford/Division of Forestry)

State wildfire crews are taking on a series of smaller fires across Interior Alaska, as more assistance arrives from the Lower 48 to help.

Alaska Division of Forestry spokesman Sam Harrel said Monday that some of the state’s highest-priority fires are burning on federal land and are being fought by the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service. Those include the Riley Fire that has closed Denali National Park and Preserve, and the 160,000-acre McDonald Fire near Salcha.

Harrel said state firefighters’ priorities include the Montana Creek Fire, about 16 miles south of Talkeetna. The 172-acre fire was about 40 percent contained Monday, after destroying an outbuilding during a heavy air and ground response.

Harrel said the fire is being passed on to an incident management team that arrived Sunday night from Wyoming. More than a dozen 20-person crews have flown to Alaska to fight fires statewide.

CL-415 water scooper aircraft on the tarmac at Fort Wainwright’s Ladd Field near Fairbanks. (From BLM Alaska Fire Service)

“It’s not a complicated fire as such but they’re going to be able to focus on it, allowing Division of Forestry firefighters to respond to new fires as they emerge,” Harrel said.

Among those fires is the Shaw Creek Dome Fire near Delta Junction, a 7-acre fire that was being monitored Monday as crews stage to fight it. The fire is one of several in the area that state firefighters are still working to contain, including the 5,500-acre Gold King Creek Fire 46 miles south of Fairbanks.

“That’s looking real good,” Harrel said. “They was able to stop the fire from crossing Gold King Creek and encroaching upon the cabin community down there. Still got about 30, 35 firefighters down there, though.”

Cooler, wetter weather has helped fire crews in Southcentral and Southwest Alaska, Harrel said. But a Red Flag warning will be in effect Tuesday for much of the eastern Interior south of the Brooks Range – including Fort Yukon, Circle and other communities east to the Canadian border.

“They haven’t really been getting the rain that a lot of other areas of the state have been getting,” Harrel said.

But the Interior may finally get some relief by the middle of the week, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Steven Dennis.

“We expect high pressure to begin to break down due to a strong Siberian low, and pretty much just bring a significant amount of rain to much of the Interior portions of the state, as well as cooler temperatures,” he said.

He said gradual cooling is expected to begin Monday with rain predicted to start Wednesday and continue Thursday, followed by showers this weekend.

Across the state, there were 161 active wildfires burning Monday.

Firefighters haven’t seen many major human-caused wildfires this season, which Harrel chalked up to people heeding state and federal burn restrictions. But as the Fourth of July holiday weekend approaches, he urged Alaskans to be extra vigilant.

“Enjoy a nice evening out around a campfire,” Harrel said. “But when you’re done with that campfire, please drown it, stir it, drown it again and make sure it’s out cold to the touch.”

KUAC’s Dan Bross contributed reporting to this story.

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Chris Klint is a web producer and breaking news reporter at Alaska Public Media. Reach him more about Chrishere.

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