Since firefighters in Alaska are often based far from roads they may establish camps where crews can be self-sufficient for days or weeks at a time, resupplied by helicopters or paracargo. In this video produced August 1, 2019 by the Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service, Chena Interagency Hotshot Max Ryan gives a tour of the crew’s fire camp on the Hadweenzic River Fire at the Cornucopia Complex about 20 miles northeast of Beaver. He explains how they store their food to protect it from bears and use permafrost to chill their perishable items.
The Swan Lake Fire, ignited by lightning on June 5, is being managed but not fully suppressed on the Kenai Peninsula 28 air miles south of Anchorage, Alaska. On August 17 it spread south across the Sterling Highway and has now grown to over 162,000 acres.
The Sterling Highway, Alaska Route 1, is a major thoroughfare that goes south from Anchorage down the Kenai Peninsula to Sterling, Soldotna, and Homer. During the night of August 25 some motorists on the highway found themselves driving past a crowning timber fire that was approaching the highway with what looked like 50 to 75-foot flames that were in some cases very close to the road. Some drivers said traffic alternated between slow rubber-necking and then rapid acceleration where flames were near, adding another variable to the smoke and dodging construction barriers.
Warning — the video below has strong language.
After travelers reported on social media some of their experiences driving past the flames, the Incident Commander of the Swan Lake Fire produced a video to shed some light on the incident. He explained the conditions on the highway were “constantly monitored” for fire and smoke hazards. He said at one point they closed the highway but before they could completely sweep that section some travelers were still in the area with active fire.
(UPDATED at 8:43 a.m. PDT August 20, 2019)
From the Incident Management Team
Calmer winds Monday helped slow the spread of the McKinley Fire as firefighters continued their efforts to protect buildings and infrastructure. An evacuation order for the area along the Parks Highway from Mileposts 82 to 91 remains in effect.
The Alaska Type 2 Interagency Incident Management Team assumed management of the fire Monday evening. The addition of a dozen engines from Fairbanks and two crews from the Lower 48 in the next 24 hours are expected give a good boost to the firefighting effort. With the additional resources, fire managers will be adding a night shift to patrol the subdivisions in the fire area.
The McKinley Fire, which began Saturday near Milepost 91 of the Parks Highway is estimated at 3,012 acres. Fueled by north winds gusting to 35 miles per hour, it quickly moved south on Sunday, burning along both sides of the Parks Highway corridor for 7 miles. An estimated 50 structures were destroyed by the fire.
The Alaska Department of Public Safety, State Fire Marshal and Alaska State Troopers are working with the Alaska Division of Forestry and Matanuska Susitna Borough to get a better estimate of structures burned and determine how many were residences. The State Fire Marshal’s Office and Alaska State Troopers are working to account for persons in the evacuation area. If you know of persons who may be unaccounted for please contact the Matanuska-Susitna Borough call center at 907-861-8326.
Here is a link to a map showing the fire perimeter and evacuation areas, updated August 19, 2019.
(Originally published at 2:44 p.m PDT August 19, 2019)
The McKinley Fire along the Parks Highway in Alaska burned at least 50 structures Sunday afternoon as firefighters and other emergency responders worked furiously to evacuate and rescue residents threatened by the fire.
The fire is 19 miles south of Talkeetna near Milepost 88 on the highway. (see map below)
Alaska Division of Forestry and Matanuska-Susitna Borough personnel are still working to account for residents who chose not to evacuate their homes or go to an evacuation shelter. Forestry, borough and Red Cross officials are working to determine how many structures were lost but specific details about structures that burned are not currently available.
Driven by strong north winds, the fire jumped from the east side of the Parks Highway to the west side at around 6 p.m. Sunday, prompting immediate evacuations on both sides of the highway from Mileposts 82 to 91.
The Parks Highway was closed at milepost 71.25 on the south and the Upper Susitna Senior Center on Helena Avenue at approximately milepost 98.5 on the north. The highway remained closed as of 11 p.m. There was no timetable for when the road will be reopened at the time of this report.
The latest size estimate on the fire was approximately 1,800 acres as of 10 p.m. Sunday.
Evacuation shelters have been established north and south of the Highway closure. The shelter on the south end is located at the Menard Sports Complex in Wasilla and the shelter on the north end is at the Upper Susitna Senior Center at approximately Mile 98.5.
The fire started Saturday afternoon when the wind blew a tree onto a power line near Milepost 91. The fire grew to about 150 acres overnight and burned up to the highway but remained east of the highway. That changed late Sunday afternoon when strong winds and warm, dry conditions resulted in extreme fire behavior that prevented suppression efforts and forced firefighters to focus their efforts on evacuating residents and protecting structures.
A Type 2 Incident Management Team from Alaska will be assuming command of the McKinley Fire on Tuesday. Two more incident management teams from the Lower 48 are en route to take over management of the Deshka Landing and Swan Lake Fires.
With the increase in wildfire activity in South-central Alaska the past two days, Forestry is also bringing up multiple other resources from the Lower 48 to assist with containment of fires. Ten hotshot crews are traveling to Alaska and should arrive Monday afternoon. Those crews will be split among the three fires listed above. Two large air tankers and four water-scooping aircraft are also en route.
Most of the information above provided by Alaska Division of Forestry.
Wildfire activity is moving north. Of the 26 new fires reported over the past two days in Alaska, ten were above the Arctic Circle. Isolated thunderstorms are expected in the central and eastern interior today, Tuesday, with high temperatures reaching the low 80s in the Yukon Flats area.
Fifteen new fires were reported across Alaska Monday. Twenty-three fires are actively burning in the Tanana Zone today, with a total of 30 fires reported this year.
In addition to the fires in Alaska, on July 10 a satellite detected heat signatures in Greenland that were consistent with those seen at wildland fires. And another satellite photographed what appears to be smoke.
6 VIIRS active detections (nominal confidence) for 10 July 2019. Location (66.991 N, -53.192 W) very near Arctic Circle Trail public hut. See the 8 July 2019 @planetlabs 3-band image of fire area & map w/ relation to 2017 fire location + 2 fire detects in Avannaata. pic.twitter.com/cpIazDSBFX
— Jessica McCarty (@jmccarty_geo) July 11, 2019
The Shovel Creek Fire, started by lightning about three weeks ago, has spread to about 20 miles northwest of Fairbanks, Alaska. As of July 12 it had burned 23,734 acres and was described as “smoldering” due to recent rain.
The number of personnel assigned dropped yesterday by 118, to bring the total down to 621. That number includes 13 crews, 18 engines, and 7 helicopters. So far $17.8 million has been spent on suppressing the fire.
Crews continued to make progress Friday with mop-up operations on the western and southern fire lines, securing the fire’s edge near Murphy Dome and along portions of the scar from the 2009 Hardluck Fire. Saturday, firefighters will continue mop-up along Old Murphy Dome road and the ridge line north of Perfect Perch to the Chatanika River.
During this break in fire behavior due to the weather, crews have taken the opportunity to scout for fire line opportunities along the Chatanika River north of the fire. As work to secure the northern edge continues, firefighters have kept hose lays, sprinklers, and other equipment in place around the structures along the Chatanika River. Aerial resources will continue to be available to cool hotspots near fire lines, as smoke and fog conditions allow.
The rain in the area has cleared some of the smoke. With fire activity north and east of Fairbanks, forecasting air quality continues to be a challenge. Fairbanks Memorial Hospital created a 24-hour smoke respite center in the Chandler Room at 1650 Cowles Street, Fairbanks, AK 99701.