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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Anon. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Above: A photo taken Monday of the 1,558-acre Kenakuchuk Creek Fire burning about 40 miles north of Dillingham. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Firefighters are leap frogging from one fire to another to protect villages, cabins and other structures in Southwest Alaska after more than a dozen new wildfires were started by lightning strikes in the past three days.
The Alaska Division of Forestry reports that as of Wednesday morning there are 15 active fires burning in the area, which covers an 88-million acre swath of Southwest Alaska from McGrath to Dillingham. Six of the 15 fires are staffed with firefighters while the remainder are being monitored.
The highest priority fire remains the 1,000-acre Bell Creek Fire (#161) burning less than 2 miles from the village of Crooked Creek on the Kuskokwim River, about 110 miles southwest of McGrath.
There are 49 personnel working on the fire, including eight smokejumpers from the BLM Alaska Fire Service and two initial attack crews from the Alaska Division of Forestry.
The fire doubled in size on Tuesday and was active again on Wednesday, prompting fire managers to launch air tankers for retardant drops on the south edge of the fire closest to the village in hopes of slowing its progress. The fire is backing over a ridge toward the village. Firefighters abandoned attempts at direct attack on Tuesday and are focusing their efforts on building indirect line on the north edge of the village closest to the fire. Personnel are planning to conduct burnout operations today in that area to deprive the fire of fuel if it threatens to reach the village. Firefighters will also be plumbing structures on the northern edge of the villages with pumps, hoses and sprinklers.
The Pitka Fork Fire (#160), a 6,600-acre fire burning about 60 miles east of McGrath, also received attention on Tuesday. The McGrath dispatch office received multiple reports of increased fire activity and a detection aircraft was launched to assess any potential threat. Multiple structures were identified in the area and a load of smokejumpers and two air tankers were flown to the fire for structure protection.
Tankers dropped five loads of retardant around structures on the south side of the fire and smokejumpers prepped structures with pumps, hoses and sprinklers. Weather permitting, the smokejumpers plan to conduct burnout operations today to fortify structure protection measures that were taken.
Two new lightning-caused fires – the Black River Fire (#172) and Paiyun Creek Fire (#174) – were reported in the area on Tuesday but neither posed a significant threat.
The Black River Fire (#172) was reported 38 miles south of McGrath in a full protection area. Helitack was launched from McGrath to size up the fire and reported it to be 8 acres burning in mixed hardwoods.
An air tanker dropped one load of retardant to keep the fire from spreading into a spruce stand and a helicopter was used to drop water on the fire to keep it in check while helitack personnel on the ground worked to build line around the fire. Helitack personnel secured line around 60 percent of the fire Tuesday evening and the fire received light precipitation overnight. A Type 2 crew from Lower Kalskag was shuttled into the fire on Wednesday to continue building line and mop up.
Here’s a rundown of the other fires burning in the Southwest Area: