Six Hotshot crews from lower 48 are working wildfires in Alaska

Most of them are on the 23,200-acre Swan Lake Fire southwest of Anchorage

Swan Lake Fire Alaska
Swan Lake Fire southwest of Anchorage near Mystery Creek

Six Hotshot crews from Oregon and Montana arrived in Alaska this week to help suppress wildfires burning in the state.

  1. Lewis and Clark
  2. Lakeview
  3. Redmond
  4. Vale
  5. Wolf Creek
  6. Winema

Lewis and Clark is on the 300-acre Caribou Creek Fire 20 miles northeast of Fairbanks, while the other five are on the Swan Lake Fire which has burned 23,200 acres on the Kenai Peninsula 32 air miles southwest of Anchorage.

Swan Lake and Caribou Creek Fires Alaska
Map showing the location of the Swan Lake and Caribou Creek Fires in Alaska.

Alaska-based crews are also committed to fires in the state, including the Chena and Pioneer Peak Hotshot crews, plus 11 Type 2 crews.

At least 13 individuals from the lower 48 states are serving in overhead positions in Alaska.

The Swan Lake Fire is approximately 12 miles long and nearly 4 miles wide and continues to grow each day on the eastern flank as weather drives the fire primarily to the east and north. The addition of three type 2 Alaska hand crews as well as the recent influx of the Redmond, Wolf Creek, Vale, Winema and Lakeview Hotshot crews have bolstered efforts to establish direct and indirect lines on the critical east and southeastern perimeter lines.

Swan Lake Fire Alaska
Swan Lake Fire southwest of Anchorage, Alaska, June 18, 2019. Alaska DNR photo.

Below is an 80-second video update by Operations Chief Chris Wennogle about the Swan Lake Fire.

 

hotshot fire crew alaska
A Hotshot crew arrives in Alaska June 19. Photo by Robin Ace.
hotshot fire crew alaska
A Hotshot crew arrives in Alaska June 19. Photo by Robin Ace.

Air tankers and Type 1 crews dispatched to Oregon Lakes Fire in Alaska

Chena Hotshots Oregon Lakes Fire
Chena Hotshots unload their gear at the Oregon Lakes Fire, May 1,2 2019.

Sunday afternoon a burnout operation being conducted by a Type 2 hand crew on the Oregon Lakes Fire 11 miles south of Delta Junction, Alaska slopped over a fireline and burned 240 unplanned acres. Firefighters, aided by heavy equipment and a helicopter, were burning grass along a fuel break about two miles north of a military training impact area.

Two helicopters and both of the state air tankers that were on contract were used on the slopover, including Tanker 42, a Convair 580, that was on the first day of its contract.

It is very rare for retardant to be needed on a fire in Alaska this early in the year. The water-scooping Fire Bosses are not yet on contract, but would have been well suited for the job with the nearby Delta River serving as a water source.

In addition, two Type 1 Hotshot crews were mobilized Sunday, Chena and Midnight Sun.

Oregon Lakes Fire burnout slopover
This small photo provided by the Incident Management Team shows the burning operation in progress. At some point it spotted across the line, burning an unplanned 240 additional acres.

Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) is in place over the fire to prevent outside aircraft, including military aircraft, from interfering with the suppression efforts. Part of the TFR is over restricted military airspace.

The fire was reported April 30 and so far has been burning in an area that is off-limits to firefighters and low-flying fire suppression aircraft due to the likelihood of unexploded ordnance on the ground. It is burning mostly in tall, dry grass and downed trees from the 2013 Mississippi Fire west of the braided Delta River.

The Incident Management Team reports that the fire has burned 5,732 acres.

map Oregon Lakes Fire
This is the most current map of the Oregon Lakes Fire provided by the Incident Management Team. The perimeter was updated May 8, 2019.

Oregon Lakes fire spreads during Red Flag Warning

Oregon Lakes Fire
Oregon Lakes Fire, May 6, 2019. BLM Alaska Fire Service photo.

After being virtually dormant for a couple of days a Red Flag Warning, sunshine, and strong wind brought the Oregon Lakes Fire back to life Tuesday. As of Monday night the fire had burned 6,670 acres 10 miles southwest of Delta Junction, Alaska but judging from smoke seen in Tuesday’s satellite photo that number has likely increased.

A hole in the clouds allowed the sun to warm and dry the fuels that got exposed to some rain earlier, and also a satellite took advantage to get an image for the first time since May 1.

Satellite photo Oregon Lakes Fire
Smoke can be seen in a satellite photo from May 7, 2019 showing the Oregon Lakes Fire 10 miles southwest of Delta Junction Alaska. The red dots indicate heat.

The weather forecast below for Delta Junction shows 30 mph south winds tapering off Tuesday night and a 46 percent chance of precipitation early Wednesday morning.

Delta Junction weather forecast
Weather forecast for Delta Junction from Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday afternoon, precipitation and wind.

The remote fire was reported at about 1 p.m. on April 30 and so far has been burning in an area that is off-limits to firefighters and low-flying fire suppression aircraft due to the likelihood of unexploded ordnance on the ground. It is burning mostly in tall, dry grass and downed trees from the 2013 Mississippi Fire on the west side of the braided Delta River.

Below is an excerpt from a Tuesday night update from the Incident Management Team:

The IMT will work with the BLM AFS Military Fire Management Zone, the U.S. Army Alaska Garrison, BLM Eastern Interior Field Office and the Alaska Division of Forestry (DOF) to determine the best course of action, especially with the forecasted increase in temperatures and wind. It is in a limited protection area and is not immediately threatening any structures, military targets or valuable resources. However, because it is burning in the Delta River drainage with known challenging weather patterns that could cause the fire to persist throughout the summer, the team is being activated to plan for an opportunity to launch suppression tactics once the fire moves out of the military impact areas. There will be an increase of people in the area as the IMT sets up a command post and stages firefighting resources in Delta Junction.

Wildfire burning in area with unexploded ordnance in Alaska

A Type 2 Incident Management Team is being assigned to the Oregon Lakes Fire which has burned more than 6,600 acres southwest of Delta Junction, Alaska

Oregon Lakes Fire, May 1, 2019
Oregon Lakes Fire, May 1, 2019. BLM Alaska Fire Service photo.

From the BLM Alaska Fire Service

Due to the unseasonable dry fuels and forecasted windy and warmer weather, an incident management team is mobilizing to strategically plan efforts on the Oregon Lakes Fire burning about 11 miles south of Delta Junction. A Type 2 Incident Management Team (IMT) from Alaska will start assembling on Monday (May 6) and take over the management of Fire #077 on Tuesday to develop a strategy that, if the chance emerges, applies suppression tactics on this early-season fire.

The remote fire was reported at about 1 p.m. on April 30 and so far has been burning in an area that is off-limits to firefighters and low-flying fire suppression aircraft due to the likelihood of unexploded ordnance on the ground. It is burning mostly in tall, dry grass and downed trees from the 2013 Mississippi Fire on the west of the braided Delta River.

Oregon Lakes Fire May 2
BLM Alaska Fire Service personnel flew over the Oregon Lakes Fire midday Thursday May 2 and reported the fire was backing, creeping and sometimes running in an area that is interspersed with lakes – some of which still had ice. Photo by Collins Bonds, BLM AFS

The IMT will work with the BLM AFS Military Fire Management Zone, the U.S. Army Alaska Garrison and the Alaska Division of Forestry (DOF) to determine the best course of action, especially with the forecasted increase in temperatures and wind. It is in a limited protection area and is not immediately threatening any structures, military targets or valuable resources. However, because it is burning in the Delta River drainage with known challenging weather patterns that could cause the fire to persist throughout the summer, the team is being activated to plan for an opportunity to launch suppression tactics once the fire moves out of the military impact areas. There will be an increase of people in the area as the IMT sets up a command post and stages firefighting resources in Delta Junction.

BLM Alaska Fire Service personnel flew over the fire midday Sunday and did not see any significant activity, probably due to the between .1 and .25 inches of precipitation that fell in the area over the past two days. The fire has grown to an estimated 6,670 acres over the past few days, mostly to the northwest. Only five percent of the perimeter was actively burning Sunday afternoon and mostly smoldering along the northeast corner.

Oregon Lakes Fire map
Satellite image showing the location of the Oregon Lakes Fire 10 miles southwest of Delta Junction, AK. Data from May 2, 2019

Due to the predicted weather, the fire is expected to continue to grow to the north and possibly threaten State of Alaska timber values along the Delta River and Delta Creek. According to the National Weather Service, a weak south flow will develop over the Alaska Range this afternoon and continue into Monday, causing a slight warming and drying trend. Much stronger southerly chinook winds will develop over the Alaska Range on Tuesday, bringing a sharp increase in temperatures and winds to the fire area. Conditions are forecasted to reach near red flag criteria on Tuesday, which for Deltana and Tanana Flats areas means relative humidity levels of 25 percent or below and winds of 25 mph or higher. The windy, warm, and dry conditions along the Alaska Range will last into the middle of the week. Smoke is very likely to increase with the warmer weather and increased winds.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Oregon Lakes Fire satellite photo
Satellite photo from May 1, 2019 showing the Oregon Lakes Fire 10 miles southwest of Delta Junction Alaska.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Anon. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Alaska emergency firefighters to undergo medical exams starting in November

Alaska EFF firefighters
The Kobuk River #2 Type 2 EFF Crew working on a fire in the Lower 48 in 2018. AFS photo.

The Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service in partnership with the Department of Interior Medical Standards Program (DOI MSP) will soon provide medical exams to federal Emergency Firefighters (EFF). The goal of the exams is to increase safety by identifying pre-existing conditions that could be aggravated by the arduous duty of wildland firefighting.

The medical exams will be provided in approximately 28 Alaska villages through mobile medical units and by scheduled appointments at 18 facilities throughout the state.

Starting in November EFFs in Alaska who are hired on an as-needed basis will need medical exams once every three years and self-certify in between years. The medical screening established by the DOI MSP will screen EFFs for any disqualifying medical conditions prior to participating in the Work Capacity Test (WCT), otherwise known as the pack test. Only wildland firefighters performing arduous duties are required to undergo medical exams and pass the WCT.

Schedules for the exams will be posted on the BLM AFS EFF webpage .

For the past two years, Alaska EFFs were granted exemptions to these medical screening requirements. The first phase of implementation of the medical exams began in 2015 and only included regularly employed Department of the Interior wildland firefighters. Applying the requirements to Alaska EFFs was originally planned to begin in 2017, but implementation was delayed until measures were in place to provide mobile units in rural Alaska to conduct the medical examinations. The exams do not include drug testing or affect State of Alaska EFFs.

There is no cost to the EFF for the examination, however, if the individual chooses a location other than their local village BLM AFS will not cover the associated travel costs. After the exam is completed, a determination will be made regarding the candidate’s eligibility to participate in the pack test and the arduous duty of wildland firefighting.

The BLM AFS provides wildland fire management for the Department of the Interior and Native Corporation lands in Alaska and provides oversight of the BLM Alaska aviation program. Firefighter safety and the safety of the public are core values and are fundamental in all areas of wildland fire management.

For more information, EFF candidates can email AFS_EFF@blm.gov or call EFF Program at 1-833-532-8810 or (907)356-5897.

 

Photos requested of Fred Rungee, Alaska legend

Above: Fred Rungee and friends. Photo sent to us by Michael Quinton.

Some of our readers may remember an article published on Wildfire Today in 2015 about a remarkable Alaskan firefighter, Fred Rungee, who passed away earlier that year. Another former Alaskan firefighter, Tom Sadowski, wrote a very compelling article about Mr. Rungee, which we have reproduced below.

A friend of Mr. Rungee, Michael Quinton, is putting together a video tribute to him and has requested photos. They can be sent to him at:  michael at michaelquinton.com

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By Tom Sadowski
April 7, 2015

Fred Rungee, Alaska resident, forest fire control veteran and humanitarian died on Friday, March 27th, 2015, at the age of 93 after valiantly fighting several health problems. Born in City Point in New Haven, Connecticut, he attended Wesleyan University and was immensely proud of his service to his country as a conscientious objector with the fledgling Smokejumpers of the Civilian Public Service program during World War II. He diligently worked toward a world at peace throughout his entire life.

As a woodsman, Fred Rungee qualified as a True Alaskan. He was an adventurer who looked comfortable in a canoe or kayak, on snowshoes or a motorcycle, in an ice boat, helicopter, or Oldsmobile. More often than not he could be found in the woods, on foot with his double bit axe (of which he was one of the last masters), his model 70 Winchester hunting rifle and a 60 pound pack. He was a true leader by example, who after a brief residency in Montana made his home in Alaska where he worked for the Bureau of Land Management as the Fire Management Officer of the Glennallen District responsible for all forest fire control in that area –about the size of New York State.

In the early 1950’s it was only Fred Rungee and “Judge” Henderson who handled all of the fires in the district and it was not unusual to come back to the station after camping out on a fire for a few days to find a number of notes tacked to the door reporting new fires in the area. He is credited in reports as far back as 1953 for “dedication and fortitude… in keeping fires of this area within manageable limits”. In 1972 he was awarded a Bronze Smokey Bear Award –the highest national honor for outstanding contributions to statewide fire prevention efforts. In one incident, he chanced upon a slow moving fire while in the back country in Alaska on a dirt bike in the vicinity of the Klutina “road”. Unable to get help and refusing to leave a potentially disastrous fire, he took a good deal of time and effort to cut a line around the fire –with his pocket knife.

Of his more than 70 years in Alaska, he resided primarily in the town of Glennallen although he was an avid traveler. Upon retirement in 1978, he moved to the Slana area to a cabin which he himself built two and a half miles from the nearest road. Packing all the materials and even a massive wood stove he needed for the cabin on foot, he did concede using a buckboard to move in his piano. Over the years, hundreds of people made the 5 mile round trip hike just to visit and experience his rare charismatic charm.

He had a huge influence on people because he was unusually kind and exceptionally tolerant. He was more than willing to listen to everyone and offer them his genuine, heartfelt support. He was more than generous; he was magnanimous and notwithstanding this greatness, he was genuinely humble.

New recruits assigned to his district were sometime suspicious of his delightful demeanor as they felt no one man could be that nice. He had courtesy to spare and his own brand of wilderness grace. Newcomers might have tested him but his niceness was invariable and unassailable. Fred Rungee would win people over and then they would start being nice –or more agreeable than they had been. Some even competed to be nicer than Fred but that top spot of human decency had already been claimed through a lifetime of practice –a lifestyle of generosity and a lifelong commitment to peace and harmony.

Rungee never discounted people. It didn’t matter if they were spurned by society and semiconscious in some substance induced stupor, he always reached out to help. Fred was a model to all he met. Never preaching, he taught human decency by example. He also taught piano and hockey to young Alaskans and befriended so many local Alaskan Natives that he was named an honorary member of the Mentasta Tribe. His quiet notoriety was widespread as the State of Alaska honored Fred with “Fred Rungee Day”.

He could play Rachmaninoff on his Alaska wilderness piano, recite Southey, and cook dinner for twenty. A skilled story teller and humorist, he could tell first-person bear attack stories and tales that few residents knew. His spontaneity transformed dinners into parties; he was fairly adept at throwing serving spoons into large bowls of mashed potatoes from across the room. He would put joy into conversation and enthusiasm into the tired but his trademark gesture was the promotion and consumption of ice cream which was always shared with friends, any time of the day, during warmish summers and brutal Alaska winters.

He may have never married but he was the father figure to so many fire fighters who got to know him. His virtual immediate family is extensive and he will be greatly missed. Fred is predeceased by his sister Elinor Rungee Smith and survived by his nephew Kent Smith, and his niece Deborah Smith and his many, many good friends in the Copper River Valley, throughout Alaska, the Lower 48 and abroad. We may have lost him but his example lives on in those of us lucky enough to learn from him. What the world needs now is for us to remember how he showed us to live: in peace and good humor.

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Tom Sadowski was a crew foreman of the El Cariso Hot Shots, U.S. Forest Service. He also worked in Alaska as an Assistant Fire Management Officer of the Glennallen District for the Department of Interior. Presently he writes a regular weekly humor column called “Just Saying…” from mid-coast Maine where he now lives. Contact: sadowski at tidewater.net.

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Note from Bill: take a minute or two to visit the original article and peruse the 23 (at last count) comments left by people who knew and appreciated Mr. Rungee.