Fire officials from the Alaska Fire Department visited the communities of Venetia and Fort Yukon Thursday, July 7 to provide updates on local fire activity and discuss strategies and tactics used during a year of intense fire with record lightning.
Acting Upper Yukon Zone Fire Management Officer Dustin Widmer traveled to Venetia Thursday to meet in person with First Chief Paul Tritt and his staff. As a former firefighter with the BLM AFS North Star Fire Crew, First Chief Tritt has seen some of the challenges of controlling wildfires in Alaska.
After a brief briefing on the statewide fires, discussions focused on more than 50 active fires spread across the Upper Yukon area and specifically the three manned fires on Venetie Tribal Lands burning in areas benefiting complete protection in northeast Alaska.
Alaska is known as a land of extremes and the Yukon Plains, a low-lying area centered on the confluence of the Yukon, Porcupine and Teedriinjik (Chandalar) rivers, where some of these fires are burning, are a perfect example. This is where fire season lingers in the summer long after other parts of the state. Straddling the Arctic Circle, Fort Yukon can experience -70 degrees in winter and 90 degrees in summer.
“Decades of total suppression on tribal lands south of the Veneto, and the absence of recent fires have made containing and stopping new beginnings much more difficult,” Dustin Widmer told many people who are stopped to talk to those responsible for the fires that day.
As severe thunderstorms developed daily in northern Alaska, firefighters and the logistics supply lines that provide them with the resources they need stretched.
As of July 13, there were 264 active fires in Alaska. There are six fire complexes and 17 additional personnel fires. So far this season, 516 fires have burned 2.8 million acres. After experiencing prolonged dry conditions across the state in May and June, July ushered in a new challenge: lightning. Interior and Northeast Alaska saw 11 straight days of red flag warnings due to heavy lightning. There were 67,000 recorded lightning strikes statewide during this period. This produced 85 new fires in central Alaska alone, which was a source of competition for firefighting resources.
Wildfire managers prioritize their initial response to new fires based on predetermined options outlined in the Alaska Interagency Fire Management Plan and available firefighting resources. Although management options determine the initial response, fires are assessed as they develop and decisions about strategy and resource allocation are made based on the current situation, regardless of management option. Firefighters and public safety will always be the number one priority for wildfire response.
During a busy fire year, the remote field station of Fort Yukon becomes a bustling hub of personnel, equipment and aircraft of all shapes and sizes. Aircraft from the AFS facility in Fairbanks deliver everything from fresh food and water to hoses, pumps, fuel and clothing to Fort Yukon. Members of the Alaska Fire Cache team can then receive, store and distribute the supplies firefighters in the field need to stay operational and effective. Fort Yukon also provides a short-term muster location for firefighters moved from fire to fire where crews can grab a hot meal and board an airplane, helicopter, or sometimes boat to get to a new mission.
Widmer said after the trip it was always helpful for him to meet with Alaskans who are directly affected by the fires burning in the Upper Yukon area and the Alaska Fire Department crew members who ensure the operation of the entire system. Another visit to the Fort Yukon area is planned for this week.
Categories: AK Fire Info