With near-record setting wildfire activity, Alaska moves to Preparedness Level 5

This weekend temperatures in the state could be 20 degrees above average

Alaska daily cumulative acres burned, by year
Alaska daily cumulative acres burned, by year. The black line is 2022.  Accessed June 29, 2022. University of Alaska Fairbanks.

With near record-setting wildfire activity early in Alaska’s fire season and a looming heat wave, on Thursday the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center moved to wildland fire Planning Level 5, the highest level. Currently there are multiple large fires that require incident management teams in several areas simultaneously. PL5 status means most of the initial and extended attack firefighting resources are committed to new and existing fires. Nationally the PL is 2, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center, but each geographic area establishes their own based on local conditions.

current fires, July 1, 2022 map fires
Red areas represent current fires, July 1, 2022

There are currently 160 fires in Alaska, and 17 are staffed. With the predicted hot dry weather, lightning, and Red Flag warnings, the fire risk is very high. In addition, fire smoke is at health advisory levels in parts of the state.

Red Flag Warnings, Alaska, July 1, 2022 fires
Red Flag Warnings, Alaska, July 1, 2022

More than 1,646,895 acres have burned so far this season. Since mid-June the cumulative acres burned to date has been hovering at record levels or above. As of June 29 the only year with more acres burned to date was 2015. The average total burned each year in Alaska from 1992 through 2021 was 1,192,909 acres.

Alaska heat wave, AccuWeather

Forecasters say a heat dome will settle over Alaska Friday through Monday that will challenge daily record high temperatures. Fairbanks is expected to hit an abnormally high 85 on Friday. That would be three degrees below the July 1 temperature record of 88, which was set just last year.

The abnormal heat will pile on to already abnormally dry vegetation, or as known to firefighters, fuels. In Anchorage, just 7 percent of the city’s normal June rainfall fell, while Fairbanks saw 36 percent of its typical June rainfall totals.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.