Forestry: Montana Creek and Malaspina Fires were started by lightning, then laid low for days

Aerial view of the Montana Creek Fire on Wednesday night. (Photo by Katie Writer, KTNA - Talkeetna)
Aerial view of the Montana Creek Fire on Wednesday night. (Photo by Katie Writer, KTNA – Talkeetna)

As recovery efforts continue for the McKinley Fire, the Alaska Division of Forestry says lightning caused two smaller fires that burned more than a month before McKinley ignited.

July 3 was the day the Montana Creek Fire was first reported. A few days later, on July 7, the Malaspina Fire was first reported. The Alaska Division of Forestry says that’s not when those fires actually began, however. The official cause for both fires is listed as lightning strikes that happened more than a week earlier.

“A lot of those lightning storms had moisture with them that would actually cap off where heat had started at the base of trees or roots,” said Cal Maki, fire prevention officer for the Alaska Division of Forestry’s Mat-Su office. “And fires continued to burn because of the drought moisture codes were so high this summer, and you know within a week or two, once the wind dried the fuels on the top of the surface out, a lot of these fires popped up and they took off again.”

He says that, while lightning holdover fires aren’t all that common, they are far from unheard of.

“It is not very common. It is not,” Maki said. “These were a little bit lengthy in the time that they held over the we had had multiple lightning holdovers in the state one down in the Kenai that went all the way up to 21 days which is very impressive for lightning to hold in the ground and not show smoke for that period of time.”