Explosion near Eagle Leads to Mysterious Geologic Slump

Photo courtesy of NPS

Residents in the Yukon River community of Eagle are excited about a mysterious geologic event that is emitting fire, steam and a sulfur smell. Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve lead Interpretative Ranger Pat Sanders says it all started on Sept. 27.

Map courtesy of NPS

“An explosion was heard, in Eagle, which is rare so of course we were interested,” Sanders said.

Sanders says on Oct. 10 a fire was spotted about 2 miles up the Tatonduk River, known locally as Sheep Creek. She says the fire spread to about 15 acres.

“And on the 15th of October we had snow and the fire was still going although it appeared to be emitting steam and there was a sulfur smell,” Sanders said.

No one has been on the ground there yet, but overflight photographs reveal a slumping area that is steaming and looks a lot like a mini volcano crater.

Sanders says the area is about 25 miles Northeast of Eagle and it’s located on Doyon land. She says both NPS and USGS geologists suspect it is a shale oil rock deposit. Sanders says the area has two slumping craters that cover about a five acre area.

“It’s been really interesting to watch because it’s still steaming and still burning but if it is indeed oil shale as USGS suspects, oil shale and sulfur, it could be as deep as a thousand feet which means it could have been burning for some time from a lightning strike years ago and it’s been burning underground and finally burned enough to cause a slump or a crater like depression in the earth so until we actually get boots on the ground and we don’t know when that’s going to happen, we’re not going to know,” Sanders said.

Sanders says it’s difficult to tell from the hazy aerial pictures, but the craters appear to be as deep as 150 to 200 feet and she says there has been significant slumping since it was first observed. She says the Hard Luck Creek fault is in the area and is an active fault.

Photo courtesy of NPS

USGS geologist Marti Miller says it’s more likely to be burning oil shale not a burning coal seam.

“But we’re fairly confident that it’s not a hot spring or some other type of volcanic related incident,” Miller said.

Which will be disappointing news to Pat Sanders in Eagle.

“Of course everyone in Eagle is hoping it’s going to be a thermal event and we’ll end up with a hot springs but maybe that’s just because it was 45 below last week,” Sanders said.

NPS geologist Linda Stromquist says, although they would like to examine the site sooner, at this point in the year it is probably prudent to wait until better weather and daylight conditions improve, toward spring.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin.

She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 18 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director.

In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications with veteran Alaskan broadcasters Nellie Moore, D’Anne Hamilton, Len Anderson, Sharon McConnell and Veronica Iya. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN.

Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters.

Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley.

She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests.

ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori