Hot, dry Interior conditions spark wildfire concerns
Alaska wildfire officials are closely monitoring fire-prone conditions in the Interior this week, as offices across the state brace for an emerging fire season that has already seen dozens of blazes.
Alaska Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry said Wednesday afternoon that the only fire statewide currently being fought by firefighters, supported by helicopter water drops, is the Moose Creek Fire about two miles southwest of Glennallen. The fire, first reported Tuesday, is holding at about 3.5 acres in size according to the Alaska Wildland Fire Information blog.
“It did not show any growth or spread overnight, so we’ve got 18 personnel out there mopping up today -- most of the Gannett Glacier crew,” Mowry said.
The Palmer-based crew hiked about a mile to the fire site Tuesday evening, Mowry said, then returned early Wednesday. The fire, which is believed to be human-caused, was at 50 percent containment Wednesday.
“They’re looking at maybe a couple more shifts to get it all wrapped up, removing some snags and hazard trees and looking for hot spots,” Mowry said.
Beth Ipsen, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Fire Service at the federal Bureau of Land Management, said officials are also monitoring a 4,000-acre fire burning about seven miles from Fort Greely, on the west side of the Delta River in the Donnelly Training Area.
“It’s burning in a limited area," Ipsen said. "It’s in an old burn area from 2013 and it’s burning predominantly through grass and downed trees, so that’s really dry fuel.”
Drivers on the Richardson Highway were likely to be affected by smoke from the fire, Ipsen said, as winds from the west carried smoke over the highway.
Fire danger in the Interior has risen this week, according to Mowry, along with temperatures that hit 67 degrees in Fairbanks on Tuesday. The hot weather has also been accompanied by a drop in humidity.
“One place clocked a 9 percent [relative humidity] yesterday down by Tok – any time you get down below 20 percent RH, things are pretty dry,” Mowry said. “Our weather folks say this is really some of the driest part of the year, because there’s no green plants to hold any moisture in the atmosphere. So until we get green-up or more precipitation or snow, things are going to stay pretty dry.”
Some respite could be offered by an incoming weather system set to arrive Thursday, which Mowry said could bring up to three inches of snow in parts of the Interior.
In the meantime, half a dozen area offices for wildfire response are preparing for the full fire season, with staff and aircraft already being deployed.
“Fairbanks, Delta [Junction], Tok, Kenai, Mat-Su – our McGrath office does not have really have anybody out there yet, but that’ll change here in this next week,” Mowry said. “Given the early spring and the early snowmelt, the warm temperatures, we’re staffed up for fires; we’ve got folks going through training right now.”
Alaska Interagency Coordination Center statistics as of Thursday morning show 81 wildfires statewide this year. One was caused by lightning, with the rest human-caused.
Melissa Frey and Aaron Morrison contributed information to this story.
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