Alaska's Wildfire Season Limps to a Close
FAIRBANKS — August is typically the month when Alaska’s summer wildfire season comes to an end, but in 2012 it looks like that fade-out will be particularly anticlimactic.
Barring an unexpected departure from the Interior’s cool, damp summer, this fire season will go down as the second-smallest of the past dozen years. Only about 200,000 acres have burned in Alaska this summer, with no new wildfires reported in almost a month.
The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center typically puts out a daily list of fire highlights in the state during the summer, but hasn’t provided an update since July 16. The latest AICC “News and Notes” release simply states: “This report will be discontinued until fire activity increases.”
Rick Thoman, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said cool July temperatures kept blazes from spreading during the heart of the wildfire season. Fairbanks' average temperature during the month was 60.9 degrees, about 2 degrees cooler than normal. It only hit 80 degrees once in July.
“It’s really the lack of any prolonged warm weather that kept anything from going,” Thoman said.
Thoman said a relatively small number of lightning strikes also kept fires from sparking. The number of strikes detected in the Interior and Northern Alaska was the smallest since 2003, he said.
It’s a stark contrast to the past decade, when Alaska had by far its heaviest stretch for wildfires. The average during the 2000s was nearly 2 million acres per year, including a record 6.6 million acres burned in 2004.
Since 1939, when fire records in the state were first kept, the average summer has included about 1 million acres of wildfire-burned land.
But recent years have provided a respite for Interior residents who had grown tired of smoky summers. It was a relatively slow fire season in 2011, with less than 300,000 acres burned.
Thoman said precipitation wasn’t a big factor in the slow fire season this year.