Wildfire near Dillingham grows to 1,000 acres

A photo of the 1,000-acre Kenakuchuk Fire taken late Saturday evening. The fire is burning in a limited protection area about 40 miles northeast of Dillingham and is being monitored by the Alaska Division of Forestry. Credit: Jason Jordet/Alaska DNR/Div. of Forestry

A wildfire 40 near Okstukuk Lake, 40 miles northeast of Dilligham, had grown to 1000 acres by Sunday night. After a slow start to the state’s wildlfire season, thunderstorms sparked a dozen or more new blazes over the weekend around Western Alaska.

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The Kenakuchuk Creek was first reported to authorities by several pilots Saturday, though the smoke was visible from Dillingham, too. McGrath-based fire crews responded Saturday afternoon, according to Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry.

“They sent a plane with smoke jumpers to check it out,” Mowry said Sunday. “When they first saw it, it was about 25 acres, and they went to fuel up in Dillingham and came back it had grown to 100 acres.”

The fire is in a limited protection zone, and the nearest cabin is several miles away. Mowry said the decision was made to just monitor the fire for now. The total cost of the response to this fire alone was over $16,000 by Sunday, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center website.

By Saturday night, the fire had grown to 800 acres, and by Sunday a flight over it estimated the size was past 1000 acres.

“It’s mostly burning in tundra, black spruce, and mixed hardwoods, but it’s not too active,” Mowry said.

In comparison to 2015 especially, which saw more than five million acres burned in Alaska, this year’s wildfire “season” is starting slow and mild.

“One of the slowest that a lot of people that have been here many years can remember,” Mowry said. “It was a cold April, and kind of a cold, wet May, but in this last week things have warmed up, we haven’t had any precipitation really around the Interior, and we’re just starting to pick up fire activity now.”

“When we get lightning, typically out in the Southwest area, we see a lot of fires,” Mowry said.

Monday brought cooler, cloudy weather and some drizzle. Mowry said the McGrath-based crews would likely fly the Kenakuchuk Creek within a few days to see if it had burned itself out, or gotten any worse.