FAIRBANKS — With hot, dry weather baking the Interior, wildfire officials are keeping their fingers crossed and asking people to be careful during the holiday weekend.
“It is going to be hot, and it is going to be dry, but it looks like lightning is not going to be a factor over the weekend,” said Doug Stockdale, a public information officer for the state’s wildfire response agency, the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.
“People out recreating are going to be the bigger problem when it comes to starting fires,” he said. “Wherever people go out to recreate could be a problem.”
Given a gorgeous forecast for the Memorial Day weekend — hot and sunny with high temperatures in the 80s — officials are urging people to exercise caution, whether they are out camping in the woods or cleaning their yards.
“The Memorial Day holiday weekend traditionally leads to a number of new wildfires that are accidentally or negligently started by escaped campfires, fireworks, all-terrain/off-road vehicle usage, spring debris burning/yard clean up, target shooting, and other activities,” a press release issued by the AICC read. “Make sure campfires are completely extinguished, that fireworks are used carefully and only where legal and adhere to burn permit regulations.
“If you build a campfire, make sure tools and water are available, do not leave the fire unattended and properly dispose of smoking materials,” the release stated.
While this year’s fire season is off to a slower start than last year, the Moose Mountain Fire about 10 miles west of Fairbanks gave residents in Alaska’s second-largest city their first fire scare of the summer when it erupted a week ago and threatened dozens of homes in the Goldstream Valley. Favorable weather and firefighters have all but extinguished that threat, though more than 300 people remained at work on the fire Thursday.
This week’s weather conditions practically mirror those of last year heading into the Memorial Day weekend, when record-high temperatures fueled several fires that were already burning in the Interior.
The high temperature at Fairbanks International Airport climbed to 80 degrees on Thursday, tying the record set in 2010, 2002 and 1915. It was the first 80-degree day of the summer, and it’s expected to be the first in a string of 80-degree days that are the result a high pressure ridge sitting over the Interior, meteorologist Scott Berg with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks said. Today’s high temperature could break the record of 82, also set last year, he said. Temperatures Saturday and Sunday are expected to be in the low 80s.
“It’s almost a repeat of last year,” Berg said.
There is no rain in the forecast, though slightly cooler temperatures are forecast for early next week.
Last year, there were 201 fires reported as of May 26, and the amount of acreage burned stood at 58,637 acres. This year, there have been 192 fires but they have burned only 6,435 acres.
Conditions were drier last year heading into the holiday weekend than they are this year. This year had a deeper snow pack and cooler spring temperatures, which has dampened the start of the fire season.
“The fires are not burning as deep (as last year) because the snow hasn’t been off the ground that long,” Stockdale said. “They’re easier to put out because you don’t have to dig down as far to find the embers.”
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.