Calling all Alaska Hotshots!


May 10-11, 2024
Alaska Hotshots Reunion
Alaska Hotshots Reunion

We are celebrating the 40 years of Type 1 status, but we recognize that the Alaska crews existed long before then — and that the program was built up over time. It’s an important part of our shared history!

Alaska 'Shots ReunionWe’d love to see anyone who was on the crews before, during, and after we were around, and anybody associated with AFS in any capacity since the beginning of time.

Horvath Pond – Chena River Lakes Flood Plain
(RV and tent camping on site)
64.71756964969562, -147.25810594061997

Alaska 'Shots Reunion
How much?
Our priority is attendance — so there will be no cost to attend.
We will, however, sell t·shirts, hats, and other stuff to help cover costs.

Alaska Hotshot Reunion 2024

► ► RSVP HERE ◀︎ ◀︎

*This is not an official BLM event, and the BLM is not endorsing or sanctioning the event. 

Burning Alaskan permafrost increasing methane emissions

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The flames have died out on Alaska’s largest river delta, but emissions are still seeping out of the tundra’s ground.

A recent NASA study found that methane “hot spots” in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta are more likely to be found where wildfires burned into the tundra. The greenhouse gas reportedly originates from decomposing carbon stored in the tundra’s permafrost for thousands of years.

“We find that [methane] hotspots are roughly 29 percent more likely on average in tundra that burned within the last 50 years compared with  unburned areas, and that this effect is nearly tripled along burn scar perimeters that are delineated by surface water features,” the researchers said. “Our results indicate that the changes following tundra fire favor the complex environmental conditions needed to generate emission hotspots.”

Mackenzie Delta, Northwest Territories
Mackenzie Delta, Northwest Territories

The correlation also nearly tripled in areas where fires burned to the edge of a lake, stream, or other body of standing water, according to NASA. The highest ratio of methane hot spots occurred in recently burned wetlands. Researchers detected roughly 2 million hot spots across 11,583 square miles. The team believes more hot spots could soon emerge.

“By some projections, the fire risk in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta could quadruple by the end of the century due to warming conditions and increased lightning storms – the leading cause of tundra fires,” they said.

Alaska had two of its largest tundra fires ever in 2022. The East Fork Fire ignited on May 31 after a lightning strike, and burned more than 150,000 acres along the Yukon River. The Apoon Pass Fire, the second largest, burned 84,130 acres.

Previous research found that the majority of yearly methane emissions from Alaska’s tundra occur during the cold season between September and May, indicating that total emissions are sensitive to soil climate and snow depth.

Alaska sends hotshots and airtanker to Alberta

The Alaska Division of Forestry and Fire Protection (DOF) has sent resources to the Canadian province of Alberta, where agency information officer Lily Coyle says they’re dealing with an unusually intense early wildfire season.

Tanker 544

“They declared a state of emergency over this past weekend,” Coyle told Alaska Public Media (PBS). “On Saturday they had over 100 wildfires spreading out of control. Their Premier Danielle Smith deemed it an unprecedented crisis.”

Aerial Fire Magazine reported that at least 29,000 Albertans have been forced from their homes in the north and central regions of the province. Fire managers in Alberta have made large resource requests for outside assistance, including the airtanker and hotshot crew from Alaska. The Northwest Compactstrong intergovernmental agreement known as the Northwest Compact allows Alaska and other states and provinces to request or share resurces internationally.

Considering Alaska’s delayed snowmelt, late spring, and recent widespread moisture, the DOF made available Airtanker 544 — a Conair Dash 8 – 400
AT Airtanker — and the Pioneer Peak Hotshots, both based in Palmer. Tanker 544 departed for Alberta on May 9. Pioneer Peak IHC has extensive experience in managing fires, and the crew has completed their required 80 hours of pre-season training. The 23-person crew left Tuesday, May 9 in a smokejumper aircraft.

“Alberta was a significant contributor to the Alaska response effort last season,” said DOF Chief of Fire and Aviation Norm McDonald. “Supporting their efforts this spring is an excellent example of not only national but the international cooperation it takes to manage fires during extreme conditions. As we are just beginning the Alaska fire season with our late breakup, we will continue to monitor fire behavior and our own fire protection needs.”

Pioneer Peak Hotshots
Pioneer Peak Hotshot Crew after completing their annual 80-hour spring training in front of Pioneer Peak in Palmer, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Pioneer Peak Hotshots

Coyle said Alaska fire agencies often send resources outside the state in the fall, but she said the spring deployment is very unusual. “This is the first time we’ve sent a crew to Canada in May,” she said. “Our late fire season, coupled with the early drought conditions that Alberta is facing — that just set us up for this pretty unprecedented situation.”

On the federal side, Alaska Fire Service public affairs specialist Beth Ipsen said no resources have yet been sent to Alberta, but the agency has two hotshot crews that will be finishing training this week and may be available for deployment.

2023 Alaska outlook – dry again in Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta

The Alaska Division of Forestry and Alaska Interagency Coordination Center’s early season wildfire outlook is now available, and normal fire potential is expected from March through June, except for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, where above-normal potential exists beginning in April. AICC’s Fire Weather Program Manager Heidi Strader said that low snowpack could result in a busy early season out on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

“Keep in mind that we have few indicators to tell us how mid-summer will be at this point,” Strader said. “For some of the more populated corridors around South Central and parts of the Interior, it’s more about fuels, wind events, and human activity.”

Alaska potential

A typical fire season in Alaska includes about 500 wildfires that burn an estimated 650,000 acres. Every year more than 80 percent of these fires are human-caused and result from careless or negligent use of fire, often in escapes from burn barrels, campfires, burn piles, or other sources.

Alaska has been enjoying significant sunshine in March, and April will probably bring the first early-season human fire starts to low-lying areas of the state as the snowpack retreats. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows no current drought in Alaska, while the Climate Prediction Center calls for a slightly warmer and wetter spring for western and northern Alaska. Fire activity the first week of March in Alaska was non-existent with a thick blanket of snow for most of the state. Additional details are available online at the website.

Legislation allows wildfire training and employment of Alaskans in rural areas

Can include fuel reduction projects

Native Alaska Firefighters – On The Fireline – Cooling Off – In Training in McGrath Photos by Mike McMillan/AK Division of Forestry

By Alaska Fire Public Information Officers

Alaska’s “emergency firefighter act” – House Bill 209 – signed into law June 20, 2022, by Governor Mike Dunleavy enables the Division of Forestry and Fire Protection to train and employ wildland firefighters and project crews in rural areas.

Native Alaskan wildfire crews have historically been a vital part of village life and culture in Alaska, offering temporary employment to several hundred emergency firefighters (EFFs) throughout the summer months. But in recent years, limited opportunities for village fire crews and rural firefighters has been discouraging.

Alaska EFF wildland firefighters
Emergency Firefighter (EFF) Candidates Celebrate the End of their first Training Week at McGrath DOF in 2022. Photo: Gene Boyd/Alaska Division of Forestry

The purpose of the recent legislation is to alleviate many of the economic and logistical barriers to retaining rural firefighting crews throughout wildfire season – running from April to August. House Bill 209 empowers the Division of Forestry to utilize firefighters in non-emergency capacities – namely fuel reduction projects. Tree cutting, brush clearing, debris removal and pile burning helps crews learn valuable firefighting skills, building cohesion while earning a steady income.

“We want to keep people working in their communities,” said Andres Orozco, Helitak Operations Foreman at McGrath Forestry. “Our goal is to create reliable employment by investing in and building our workforce with well-trained, hard-working firefighters.” Andres predicts McGrath Forestry will train 20-30 new firefighters by year’s end – a number he hopes will double in 2023.

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.