Cooler weather eases burden of Medfra Fire

The state’s first major wildfire of the year near McGrath has grown to nearly 10,500 acres. But efforts to fight the Medfra fire on Thursday are being helped by cooler, wetter weather.

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The smoke plume from the Medfra Fire as seen on Monday, May 30, 2016. (Photo by Robert McCormick/Alaska Fire Service)
The smoke plume from the Medfra Fire as seen on Monday, May 30, 2016. (Photo by Robert McCormick/Alaska Fire Service)

Tim Mowry is the public information officer with the Division of Forestry.

“The good news is the fire did receive a lot of rain, it started raining around 11 Wednesday night.”

He says the rain is helping efforts to protect three native allotments and two cabins near the Medfra fire. There are now about 80 responders on scene, including smokejumpers and crews from nearby villages.

The Medfra fire is about 50 northeast of McGrath, which is the state’s forward operating base for Southwest firefighting operations.

Last year the McGrath fire station lost 16 of its 22 positions due to budget cuts. But Mowry says that downsizing isn’t hurting the current efforts.

“McGrath, because of its remote location, has always been very dependent on aircraft to respond to , and that’s been the same case with this fire. As fire activity ramps up, we bring people into McGrath, so I wouldn’t say at this point the cutbacks have affected response at this fire.”

The Medfra fire was ignited over the weekend by what’s called a holdover fire – Mowry said some fresh fuel caught the smoldering remains of the Soda Creek fire that burned the same area last year.

“Fires can sneak down, they go down real deep and get into that duff,” Mowry said. “And
they can sit there and smolder all winter long under the snow. And in the spring when things warm up and dry out and we get a little bit of wind, that’ll fan those back to life and expose them, and that appears to be the case in the instance of the Medfra fire.”

Though holdover fires are a common occurrence in Alaska, Mowry says we’re already seeing more this year simply because so many acres burned last year. At 5.1 million acres, 2015 was Alaska’s second biggest fire season on record.