Six lightning-caused fires burn tundra in Noatak National Preserve

Tumit Creek Fire at 1,147 acres. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Fire Service)

Alaska fire officials are monitoring six lightning-caused fires in the Noatak National Preserve in Northwest Alaska.

Three fires sparked on June 4. They include the Nimiuktuk River Fire, which is currently at 1,643 acres, the Imikneyak Creek Fire, which is at 1,043 acres, and the Tumit Creek Fire at 1,147 acres.

On June 5, three smaller fires started in the preserve — two started near Aklumayuak Creek. Another blaze sparked near Kuyak Creek. The three are all currently under 500 acres.

Western area fire management officer Larry Weddle says the fires are remote and don’t pose a risk to anyone at this time. 

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“All these fires are located at significant distances away from any other values of risk that we want to protect a fire from burning in,” Weddle said.

Those values of risk could include cabins or other private property. Since the fires aren’t threatening anything like that, they are all in a monitor status. Officials say there has been no growth detected in the fires since Saturday, June 7. 

Weddle says at this time of year, it’s not uncommon to see fires in the Noatak National Preserve, despite it being a tundra area. 

“The Noatak, for a tundra, is kind of a unique system,” Weddle said. “Lake core studies in the past show that we’ve had regular recurring fires in the same area every 33-35 years, something like that. So it’s a pretty high-frequency fire interval, or it can be, which is kind of unusual for a tundra system.”

Weddle notes that fires in the preserve are natural, and help with recycling old growth.

“It’s a part of the process,” Weddle said. “It’s part of the ecological system restoring the Noatak system up there.”

At this point, Weddle says it’s likely that the fires will remain in monitor mode and will burn out naturally.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.

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