FAIRBANKS — The first hot day of spring served as a spark to the fire season.
The Division Forestry and local fire departments responded to six wildfires on Saturday, which marked the first 60-degree day of the year.
“It was a busy day,” said Division of Forestry fire prevention officer Mike Goyette.
The fires were small — the biggest was just more than 1 acre — and firefighters were able to quickly extinguish them, but the rash of fires should serve as a reminder that fire season is here, Goyette said.
With greenup yet to happen and no precipitation this month, conditions are extremely dry, Goyette said. Temperatures are expected to remain warm for the next several days with highs in the 60s through the middle of the week.
“The grass is still dry,” Goyette said. “We’re seeing small yard fires moving fairly rapidly through grass and yards and then slowing down when it hits tree line and hardwoods. A couple more days of this and that won’t be the case anymore.”
There is a burn suspension in effect in the Fairbanks area, he said.
The Division of Forestry and Alaska State Troopers are investigating the biggest of the six fires on Saturday, a 1-acre blaze at the Pedro Monument near 16 Mile Steese Highway north of Fairbanks.
That fire appears to have been intentionally set, Goyette said. Troopers received several reports of an unknown person(s) intentionally lighting fires at the Pedro Monument at approximately 7:45 p.m.
“Somebody set several fires within a short distance of the roadway and Pedro Monument,” Goyette said.
Troopers arrived on scene and found a large portion of the hillside on fire just off the highway, according to a trooper report.
A crew of 20 firefighters from the Division of Forestry responded with a helicopter, light tanker engine and two pickup engines just after
8 p.m., Goyette said.
There were several different fires burning when firefighters arrived, the biggest of which was about 1 acre, he said. The fires started in grass but had spread into the hardwoods and leaf litter, he said.
It took firefighters about an hour to extinguish the fires. The helicopter dropped several tanks of water on the fire, Goyette said.
“It had potential for a pretty large fire,” he said.
According to Goyette and trooper reports, an eyewitness saw someone in a tan, newer model GMC Sierra pickup in the area at the time the fires were started.
Troopers are asking anyone with information about the vehicle or who may have started the fires to call troopers at 451-5100.
The Pedro Monument fire was the biggest of the six that were reported on Saturday. The other five blazes were all under one-quarter acre.
Two were started as a result of debris burning, one at 6 Mile Chena Hot Springs Road and one on Van Horn Road. The fire on Van Horn Road escaped a burn barrel and was burning in grass when University firefighters arrived and put it out. A citation was issued to the owner of the burn barrel.
A grass fire in a yard on Riverview Drive was caused by a hot lawnmower engine, Goyette said.
“A guy was mowing thatch and the grass built up on the lawnmower and caught fire on the hot engine,” he said.
The fire spread across the yard before it was doused by city and forestry firefighters. The owner was issued a citation for an escaped fire.
Steese Area Volunteer firefighters responded to a grass fire in the yard of a home near Curry’s Corner at the intersection of the Old Steese Highway and Chena Hot Springs Road about
3 p.m. Saturday. A man was grinding steel and a spark caught the lawn on fire, fire chief Mitch Flynn said.
Firefighters were able to douse the fire quickly, but it demonstrates how dry conditions are, the chief said.
“It is volatile out there,” Flynn said.
Division of Forestry firefighters also responded to a report of an unattended bonfire in a gravel pit at
8 Mile Ellliott Highway about 6 p.m. They found a smoldering bonfire about 4-feet-by-4-feet, Goyette said.
The nice weather likely contributed to all the fires on Saturday except the one intentionally set at Pedro Monument, he said.
“It was our first nice weekend after breakup and people are wanting to get outside and do things,” Goyette said. “The past couple of weekends have been cool and windy; not decent weather for getting outside.”
Counting Saturday’s action, there have been 17 wildfires reported so far this season in the Fairbanks area. They have burned 3.8 acres.
Fairbanks temperatures reach 60s
The high temperature at Fairbanks International Airport hit 65 degrees Saturday and 63 Sunday, marking the first
60-degree days of the spring.
The first 60-degree day was a little more than two weeks later than normal, said Corey Bogel at the National Weather Service in Fairbanks. The first 60-degree day normally occurs April 29.
May 14 is the latest date for the first 60-degree day since 2002. The temperature hit 60 degrees on May 14 that year. Since 1970, it is the third-latest date for the first 60-degree day of the year.
The earliest 60-degree day on record was April 5, 1916 and the latest date is May 25, 1964.
Temperatures are forecast to remain warm for the next several days. Highs in the mid-60s are forecast for the rest of this week with sunny or partly cloudy conditions.