Fire Season Likely To Start Early In Southcentral Alaska

Wildland firefighters are gearing up for the upcoming 2014 fire season. According to the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service, fire season could come fast to parts of the Tanana Valley and Southcentral Alaska.

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The BLM Alaska Fire Service will work with U.S. Army Garrison Alaska through early June to conduct routine prescribed burns over nearly 60-thousand acres.

Mel Slater is the Public Affairs officer for the Fire Service. He says the plan is to reduce fire danger as summer weather heats up.

Smoke from the Stuart Creek 2 Fire filled the Goldstream Valley Sunday afternoon. Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC - Fairbanks.
Smoke from the Stuart Creek 2 Fire. Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks.

“Well, these are areas over the years that have had debris, fallen trees and over the years, those things have built up,” Slater said.

The BLM and the Army have worked together in years past to conduct prescribed burns to prevent fires that could be associated with military training. Slater says the two agencies are reevaluating their practices prior to the upcoming fire season and in response to the nearly 90,000-acre Stuart Creek 2 Fire that was ignited during an Army training mission northeast of Fairbanks last summer.

“There are agreements in place between the army and BLM Alaska Fire Service that says who provides what kind of services and those negotiations are just taking a look at those agreements and making modifications when they’re necessary,” Slater said.

Forecasters expect the fire season to come on strong in parts of Alaska’s South-Central and Western regions due to low snow pack and above normal early spring temperatures.  Parts of the Tanana Valley prone to warm winds, also known as Chinooks, may also see heightened fire danger in May, but Slater says fire prediction is complicated.

“Trying to predetermine what kind of fire season we’re going to have is a pretty difficult guess at best. Right now it’ kind of hard to say, I mean we still have snow on the ground, so we’re still trying to figure out how we’re going to do our prescribed fires right now,” Slater said.

Prescribed burns are planned for the Donnelly Training area, Yukon Training Area, Fort Wainwright and Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, but recent snowfall has pushed back the burning.

Slater says it was supposed to start this week, but the Fire Service and the Army are reworking that schedule.