Southwest Alaska Area Fire Updates

by AK Fire Info

July 23

Southwest Alaska Area firefighters are taking action to protect several Native Alaskan Allotments threatened by area fires. Allotments are parcels of land up to 160 acres in size, designated for fire protection. Sixty-one fires are active across the area, and recent warmer weather has increased fire activity on several incidents. Smoke and limited visibility is slowing air travel into several Southwest Alaskan villages and remote airstrips.

One new fire was reported in limited protection area Monday, 20 miles northeast of Nikolai. Referred to as a “hold-over”, the Tonklonukna Creek Fire (#655) started by lightning last week and went undetected until it became active on Monday.

Five fires are staffed with crews protecting the Donlin Mine, the Nixon Mine, Red Devil, cabins along the Kuskokwim River, and an allotment near Red Devil. Eight smokejumpers were en route to the Salmonberry Fire (#662) reported outside of Nikolai on Tuesday evening.

No lightning was reported on Monday. Deeper layers of vegetation in the tundra remain dry and receptive to new fire starts. No lightning is predicted for the area in the coming days. A cooler, wetter weather system is approaching Alaska from the east and will likely move to the south.

Two fixed-wing logistical airplanes and three helicopters are based at the DNR McGrath Fire Base, with one helicopter staffing fires near Aniak. Four initial attack helicopter modules with 18 initial attack firefighters are based in McGrath. 459,461 acres have burned in Southwest Alaska this year, and two million total acres have burned across the state this year.

July 24

Thunderstorms unleashed 10,000 lightning strikes on Alaska’s interior Tuesday, starting six new fires in the Southwest Area. Wetting rains slowed fire activity on several incidents, while other fires received little to no rain. Cool wet weather is forecast to persist through Thursday, with a slight warming trend and southwest winds predicted for the weekend. Smoke and ash fall is being reported in the vicinity of larger fires, especially in the village of Crooked Creek.

Sixty-seven fires are active in the Southwest Alaska Area. Priorities for fire managers remain initial attack on new fires to defend life, property and commercial infrastructure. Aerial detection flights are being flown to record new starts and update the status of existing fires. Five fires are currently being staffed with crews protecting the village of Nikolai, Donlin Mine, the Nixon Mine, Red Devil, and cabins along the Kuskokwim River.

Four fixed-wing logistical airplanes and three helicopters are based at the DNR McGrath Fire Base, with one helicopter staffing fires near Aniak. Eighteen helitak firefighters stationed at the DNR McGrath Fire Base mobilized to new fires on Tuesday. 410,433 acres have burned in Southwest Alaska this year, and two million total acres have burned across the state this year.

July 25

Thunderstorms are predicted across Southwest Alaska through Friday, bringing isolated showers with lightning, and the chance of new fire starts. Ground fuels remain critically dry in areas not receiving wetting rain, and fire managers are tracking the growth of several large incidents.

Five fires are currently being staffed with crews defending the villages of Nikolai and Red Devil, the Donlin Mine, the Nixon Mine, and cabins along the Kuskokwim River. One new fire was reported smoldering in a limited protection area on Wednesday, and 68 fires remain active in the Southwest Alaska Area.

Four fixed-wing logistical airplanes and three helicopters are based at the DNR McGrath Fire Base, with one helicopter staffing fires near Aniak. Ten helitak firefighters are staffing initial attack modules at the DNR McGrath Helibase. 411,280 acres have burned in Southwest Alaska this year, and 2.1 million acres total acres have burned across the state this year.

July 26

Six fires are currently being staffed with crews defending the villages of Nikolai and Red Devil, the Donlin Mine, the Nixon Mine, and cabins along the Kuskokwim River. Crews are being shuttled between fires to maximize their effectiveness, while others are being demobilized as they reach the end of their two-to-three week assignments. No new fires were reported and no lightning activity was recorded. Sixty-eight fires remain active in the Southwest Alaska Area.

Wet weather is predicted across much of the Southwest Alaska into next week. Ground fuels remain dry in areas not receiving wetting rain, and fire managers are re-mapping existing fires.

Two fixed-wing logistical airplanes and three helicopters are based at the DNR McGrath Fire Base, with one helicopter staffing fires near Aniak. Five helitak firefighters are staffing initial attack modules at the DNR McGrath Helibase. 414,422 acres have burned in Southwest Alaska this year, and 2.1 million acres total acres have burned across the state this year.

July 27

Scattered showers across Southwest Alaska are expected to continue into next week, bringing much needed rain to many area fires. Drought codes remain high across Alaska’s interior, making mop-up time-consuming even under rainy skies. Five fires are being staffed to defend the villages of Nikolai and Red Devil, the Donlin Mine, the Nixon Mine, and allotments and cabins along the Kuskokwim River.

Crews are being shuttled to fires where they are needed most. No new fires were reported and no lightning activity was recorded. Sixty-eight fires remain active in the Southwest Alaska Area, and aerial observers are re-mapping existing fires as weather permits.

Two fixed-wing logistical airplanes and three helicopters are based at the DNR McGrath Fire Base, with one helicopter staffing fires near Aniak. Five helitak firefighters are staffing initial attack modules at the DNR McGrath Helibase. 430,068 acres have burned in Southwest Alaska this year, and 2.2 million acres total acres have burned across the state in 2019.

July 28

Isolated showers visited Southwest Alaska on Sunday and are expected to continue into next week. Several fires have recorded little to no rain. There are 64 active fires, and no new fires were reported. Five fires remain staffed to protect the villages of Nikolai and Red Devil, the Donlin Mine, the Nixon Mine, and allotments and cabins along the Kuskokwim River.

Moisture levels in fine fuels including grass and the top layers of tundra remain high, while lower duff levels remain dry in many areas, increasing the amount of time it takes to completely extinguish fires. Helitak modules and hand crews from Alaskan communities and the lower 48 states are mobilizing between existing fires as needed.

Two fixed-wing logistical airplanes, three helicopters, and five initial attack (IA) helitak firefighters remain on station at the DNR McGrath Fire Base and are ready to respond to threats from existing fires and new starts. 427,183 acres have burned in Southwest Alaska this year, and 2.1 million total acres have burned across the state in 2019.

The Southwest Alaska Area Fire Information Update will continue listing the current status of new and staffed fires and information about the mobilization and demobilization of crews. To see the status of unstaffed fires, go to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center’s Situation Report at https://fire.ak.blm.gov.

On the cover (small photo): Southwest Alaska Area Firefighters Prepare to Mobilize to the Lost Jack Fire Near Nikolai. Photo: Mike McMillan – DNR

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