Timely rains help Alaska to a mild wildfire season so far

  • By Dan Joling
  • Wednesday, July 13, 2016 10:41pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE — A year after Alaska wildfires burned an area larger than Massachusetts, the state is on course for a mild fire year in 2016.

Alaska on Sunday passed its unofficial “conversion date,” when the wildfire season begins to wind down and fire officials offer underused assets such as fire crews and water-scooping aircraft to other states or Canada.

A typical Alaska fire season is a million or two acres burned and last year saw 7,969 square miles, or 5.1 million acres, scorched. As of Wednesday morning, just 217 square miles, fewer than 139,000 acres, had burned in 2016.

“Last year at this point we were closing in on 4.2 million acres,” said Tim Mowry, spokesman for the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center in Fairbanks.

State and federal firefighters moved quickly to limit the state’s 370 fires, Mowry said, but that doesn’t explain a 4-million acre difference, he said. Fortuitous weather is a better explanation.

“The weather has been such that it just hasn’t been conducive to getting the ignitions and having those fires persist like they did last year,” Mowry said.

Memorial Day Weekend was hot and dry. The weather since has lacked extended dry periods. In much of the state, high pressure has been followed by low pressure carrying precipitation.

“It’s been perfect for not getting fire starts,” Mowry said.

Last year was drier. The season kicked off with fires near Willow and on the Kenai Peninsula that burned less than 13 square miles each. However, they consumed homes and required hundreds of firefighting personnel to keep them from causing additional damage.

Activity got busier last summer during a memorable week of lightning strikes. From June 17-21, Alaska recorded 60,000 lightning strikes that lit 295 fires. That’s too much fire to deal with, Mowry said. Fires were ranked and resources poured into the ones with the highest priority.

“We were just chasing our tail for the tail for the rest of the summer because there was so much fire,” he said.

Fires in 2016 have paced themselves.

“This year, it’s seems like we’ve had one fire at a time,” Mowry said.

Fire season in Alaska is typically busiest in late May and June. In a typical year, things change after July 10.

“That denotes when things start to wind down, or when the weather pattern changes,” he said.

Alaska starts to get a southwest flow of air, bringing moisture from the North Pacific. The likelihood of wildlands igniting, or of fire persisting, is reduced, Mowry said.

“We’re losing daylight every day now. The burning period is reduced every day now because of that. Temperatures typically are not as warm. We’re getting dew at night,” he said.

Anticipating a slowdown, Alaska is offering to other states an air tanker that can drop retardant. Given the state’s budget woes, the Division of Forestry would be happy to shift the daily lease cost of $55,000.

“We would like to do that if possible this year,” Mowry said, “because we’re in dire straits financially.”

More in News

A map shows the location of a safety corridor project along the Sterling Highway between Sterling and Soldotna. (Photo courtesy of DOT&PF)
Sterling highway project to have limited environmental impact, assessment finds

The stretch highway to be improved reaches from Fred Meyer in Soldotna to the bridge over Moose River in Sterling

Donated blood is prepared for storage and eventual transport at the Blood Bank of Alaska’s Juneau location. There is a statewide shortage of donated blood. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
‘National blood crisis’ presents challenges in Alaska

Donation centers contend with COVID, weather and other disruptions as they work to stock hospitals.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters alongside, from left, Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., during a press conference regarding the Democratic party’s shift to focus on voting rights at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades)
Big voting bill faces defeat as 2 Dems won’t stop filibuster

This is the fifth time the Senate will try to pass voting legislation this Congress

Members of the Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce listen to a briefing by Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan during a joint luncheon at the Soldotna Sports Complex on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Sullivan reports in from D.C.

The senator touched on infrastructure, voting rights, defense spending and the pandemic

The Alaska State Capitol building seen on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022 in Juneau, Alaska. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
State lawmakers face proposed salary hike, allowance limits

A commission voted 3-1 to raise the base salary from $50,400 a year to $64,000

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, gave a stern warning about decorum to members of the Alaska House of Representatives on the first day of the legislative session on Tuesday, Jan 18, 2022. Last year the Legislature was so divided it took a full regular session and four special sessions before work was completed.
1st day of session brings familiar tensions to Legislature

The session opened with calls for bipartisanship, but tensions were evident

Image via Alaska Board of Fisheries
Statewide shellfish meeting rescheduled

This comes after the board bumped back its Southeast and Yakutat shellfish meeting

A State of Alaska epidemiology bulletin can be found at https://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/pages/default.aspx.
State updates STI protocol after reported drop

The state has been experiencing an outbreak since 2017

The Kenai Fire Department headquarters are photographed on Feb. 13, 2018, in Kenai, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion file)
Police identify remains found in burned car

Kenai Police and Fire departments responded to a car fire at Beaver Creek in Kenai on Jan. 7

Most Read