Firefighters in Alaska withdraw from Card Street Fire

Firefighters working on the Card Street fire 54 air miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska on June 15 had to make a strategic withdrawal when a crown fire encroached on their position, as you can see in this video. Since the fire started on June 15 it has burned over 7,000 acres.

Card Street Fire

The InciWeb site describes the photo above as “Initial attack near homes”, so it may have been taken on June 15 also.

Alaska — 46,000 lightning strikes and many fires

(UPDATED at 12:22 p.m. MT, June 24, 2015)

Below is a list of fires in Alaska that are currently reported on InciWeb, sorted by size:

List of Alaska fires 6-24-2015

****

(Originally published at 9:09 p.m. MT, June 23, 2015)

Alaska Lightning
From Alaska Climate Info: This map shows the number of lightnings strikes in Alaska and western Canada since Saturday. The grand total was over 46,000 strikes. An average season has about 110,000 strikes. On Sunday, the Alaska Division of Forestry said that the 14,000+ lightning strikes was an all-time record (1986-present). On Monday an equal amount of strikes were recorded.
Note: Data can be found here:

A Facebook page called Alaska Climate Info has some amazing, even shocking, images of 46,000 lightning strikes in the state between Saturday and Tuesday morning, and a map showing dozens of fires that are larger than 5 acres each.

Alaska Fires, June 23, 2015
From Alaska Climate Info: Reader Tracy asked if there was a satellite image showing the smoke across Alaska. This image was captured yesterday by the Soumi-NPP (SNPP) satellite. The smoke in Interior Alaska stands out as a milky white. The bright white areas are thunderstorms and other high clouds. Active fires are shown as yellow dots.

In the image below, I believe each tag is a wildfire.

And from the National Park Service, more information about lightning caused fires in Alaska:

Denali fires
From the National Park Service: “Following a lightning storm… five wildfires are now burning in remote locations in Denali National Park and Preserve. None of the wildfires are threatening park structures or sensitive resources. Due to the remote locations, fire managers have opted to monitor these fires. http://bit.ly/1TMJ0JA

Alaska: Card Street Fire

(UPDATE at 9:25 a.m. MT, June 17, 2015)

Card Street Fire map
Map showing the location of the Card Street Fire, June 17, 2015.

More evacuations were ordered on Tuesday for the Card Street Fire near Sterling, Alaska 54 air miles southwest of Anchorage. Twice during the day residents were asked to leave areas threatened by the fire, with the Kenai Keys subdivision being affected late in the day as the 2,000-acre fire continued to burn aggressively since it started about 2 p.m. on Monday.

Most of the fire activity Tuesday was on the east side of the fire where it burned into the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Sprinklers have been set up around an old U.S. Forest Service guard station on Skilak Loop Road.

Air tankers dropped over 30 loads of fire retardant to protect structures dotted throughout the area as the wildfire quickly burned south towards the Kenai River. At least five structures were destroyed in the initial phase of the fire despite efforts by Alaska Division of Forestry firefighters.

Card Street Fire
Card Street Fire, June 15, 2015. AFS photo.

Kenai forestry responded to the area with five engines and a helicopter while three local fire departments also responded to assist with structure protection. Evacuations were ordered for Fueding Lane, Aspen Street and the Kenai Keyes subdivision. The fire grew quickly and spotted across the Kenai River, causing the areas of Dow Island and Salmon Run to also be evacuated.

Firefighters positioned themselves along Funny River Road on the south side of the Kenai River to chase spot fires. Smokejumpers worked critical spots, protecting structures along the Kenai River using a boat. A park ranger also patrolled the river in a boat watching for spot fires and protecting structures. Later in the evening, a wind shift moved the fire to the east, pushing it into wetlands, which was a huge assist for firefighters protecting structures.

****

(ORIGINALLY published at 10:04 a.m. MT, June 16, 2015)

Card Street Fire
Map showing heat from the Card Street Fire detected by a satellite at 1:25 a.m. MT, June 16, 2015.

The Card Street Fire is causing evacuations near Sterling, Alaska on the Kenai Peninsula 54 air miles southwest of Anchorage. This new fire is in the same general area as the 2014 Funny River Fire that burned over 190,000 acres.

First reported Monday afternoon, by evening it had burned 640 acres and was threatening 200 homes. Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources said hundreds of homes have been evacuated and six structures have burned.

Red Flag Warning in Alaska, June 1, 2015

Red Flag Warning, June 1, 2015

Much of Alaska is under a Red Flag Warning today for strong winds accompanying the passage of a front.

The map was current as of 7:53 a.m. MDT on Monday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts and maps. For the most current data visit this NWS site or this NWS site.

Coal seam fires burning in Alaska

French Gulch Fire
The 108-acre French Gulch Fire, a coal seam fire burning about 5 miles east of the Parks Highway near Healy, Alaska.

The Alaska Division of Forestry is monitoring two, and possibly three, coal seam fires that popped up near Healy as a result of the recent hot, dry, windy weather.

The larger of the three fires, the 108-acre French Gulch Fire, was reported just after 7 p.m. on Sunday when somebody spotted smoke up the Healy Creek Valley. It is burning about 5 ½ miles east of the Parks Highway behind the Usibelli Coal Mine.

As of Monday afternoon, the fire was creeping and smoldering in tundra with minimal activity in the hardwoods, reported Incident Commander Shelby Majors with the Alaska Division of Forestry. The fire is in an area that has burned several times from previous coal seam fires and no structures are threatened, he said.

“It’s burning within a fire scar within a fire scar within a fire scar,” is how Mr. Majors put it.

There were three state forestry firefighters on scene and a state-contracted helicopter was used Sunday to drop water on the fire. The state borrowed a helicopter from the National Park Service on Monday to drop more water on the western edge of the fire. The plan is to prevent the fire from spreading west toward the highway and let it burn itself out using natural barriers, Mr. Majors said.

“We’re going to pretty much let it do its own thing,” he said. “The primary activity is along the southeast corner and it’s working itself into a snow field and rocks so it will be running out of fuel in the next day or two.”

Another, much smaller coal seam fire was detected on Sunday about 12 miles north of the French Gulch Fire, Mr. Majors said. That fire was only about 5-feet-by-5 feet and no suppression action was being taken because it was in an old burn area with minimal spread potential, he said.

A third fire was reported Monday morning about 5 miles north of the French Gulch Fire. That fire, which was estimated at 25 acres as of Monday afternoon, is also suspected to be a coal seam fire but that has not been confirmed, according to Mr. Majors. It too is burning tundra in an old fire scar and the potential for spread is minimal so there are no suppression efforts being taken as of Monday afternoon.

Coal seam fires are a common occurrence in the area and occasionally come to life when the conditions are right.

****

From Alaska Division of Forestry

Coal and coal seam fires reported on Wildfire Today.

 

Contemplating the Alaska fire season

grizzly bear
A grizzly bear near Bill Gabbert’s campsite in Denali National Park in Alaska. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

It can be a fool’s errand to attempt to predict the severity of a wildfire season. Using past weather data to predict the nature and number of future fires often fails.

But an article written by Ben Boettger for the Peninsula Clarion is more intelligent than most about discussing what affects a fire season and what this one might look like.

Below are some excerpts from his article:

…[Meteorologist Sharon Alden of the Alaska Fire Service’s predictive office] said there is not a correlation between a warm winter and a busy fire season, nor a correlation between a less-snowy winter and a busy fire season.

“However, there is a correlation between snowpack and the early fire season—how fast things melt out, how soon fire season starts,” Alden said.

Alden said that the intensity of fire season is more tied to precipitation than temperature, leading Fire Services to begin early preparation during the critical months of spring.

“In early spring, before green-up, the forest fuels are dryer,” Alden said. “When you have green-up, when you have trees fleshing out and new green grass is growing, you have more moisture around and it becomes a little less receptive to getting a fire started.”

In addition to leaving less moisture on the ground, a lack of snow contributes to an early fire season through its effect on grass, since grass crushed down by snow burns less easily than standing grass. Kristi Bulock, fire management officer for the US Fish and Wildlife Service region that includes the Kenai Wildlife Refuge, said that the locally-abundant calamogrostis grass is a particularly good wildfire fuel.

“One of the concerns we have this year is that without the snowpack, the grass is still three feet tall,” Bulock said. “It’s up and it’s fluffy, and it’s available for burning, where generally, under a good snowpack, it would be matted down. And then as we start getting green-up we would start getting green shoots in between, and that would lessen the potential for that fuel to carry fire. But if you look out your window now you see these giant patches of cured grass… if we have any kind of ignition source — a cigarette, somebody dragging a chain on the road — the potential could be there for it to really move through that grass…”