Fire totals, acreage burned lower than predicted, so far

The Sockeye Fire near Willow, at the latest report, is holding steady at just over 7,500 acres.

So far this year, about 78,000 acres have burned in 280 fires in Alaska. Pete Buist, a public information officer for the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, says that’s lower than normal.

“Early in the season, we have a lot of fires that are human caused, and then as the season progresses, we get into the time of year when lightning is common,” Buist said. “And that happens, frankly, about now; it’s actually a little late this year.”

“So, we’re on the low side in terms of numbers starts and numbers of acres.”

Though fire activity is down, overall, Buist says what is a little different this year is where the fires are located.

“Normally, places like the Kenai and the Mat-Su, the fire danger is the greatest between break-up and green-up and when we’ve got wind in the spring and that sort of thing, it’s very busy down there,” he said. “This year, that seems to have extended a bit further into the season.”

Predictions coming into this year’s fire season tended toward the high end. That hasn’t transpired, so far.

Buist says this season is similar to 2004 – which was a record-high fire season, where about 7 million acres burned – but he doesn’t anticipate a repeat of that season.

“Despite the dire predictions, there’s really no way to accurately come up with what’s gonna happen next week, much less what’s gonna happen next month,” he said.

Buist says it will likely be a busy few weeks for fire crews, but after that, the fire danger should gradually lessen.

“By a month from now, normally we’re into more precipitation, and lightning becomes less and less of a problem,” Buist said.

And he says he has no reason to think that won’t happen again this year.

Until then, there’s plenty of hot, dry weather in the forecast and the Fourth of July is approaching. Buist says Alaskans are typically more fire safe than most.

“We all do lots of camping, lots of fishing, and we have those campfires and know how to take care of them, but in any subset of the population, there is that few percentage points of folks who are not that careful and they’re the ones that cause the problems,” Buist said.

In times of high fire danger, Buist cautions people against using fireworks.

Burn bans are in effect throughout much of the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral Alaska.