Thousands of lightning strikes spark more than a dozen wildfires in Northwest Alaska

Smoke seen rising from tundra
The Noatak River Fire is an estimated 11,000 acres and burning in the Noatak National Preserve about 120 miles northeast of Kotzebue. Smoke from it and the nearby Tutak Creek Fire are impacting numerous communities to the southwest. (Courtesy of Ryan McPherson, BLM AFS)

On Tuesday night, the state of Alaska saw thousands of lightning strikes.

“Most of the 3,800 lightning strikes were concentrated in the Northwest Arctic,” said BLM Alaska Fire Service spokeswoman Beth Ipsen.

Those lightning strikes sparked more than a dozen new fires in the region.

Ipsen says there are several communities in close proximity to new fires. A fire popped up about 27 miles northeast of Kivalina, where Ipsen says it might run into a local Native allotment.

“There’s some smokejumpers that are prepping that Native allotment in case that fire does threaten it,” Ipsen said.

Two other villages near fires are Selawik and Buckland. Ipsen says a team of smokejumpers deployed to the Canyon Creek Fire about six miles southeast of Buckland. The fire near Selawik is burning at Niglaktak Lake, about two miles away from the village. But Ipsen says the fire is burning on a peninsula.

“We don’t believe that it’s going to do anything, impact the neighboring community because it is surrounded by water,” Ipsen said.

Map of fires burning in the area include new fires (numbers 250-263) that started on June 22, 20121 after lightning rolled through part of Western Alaska from Galena north to the Kobuk River Valley. (Graphic courtesy of BLM Alaska Fire Service)

Another five wildfires started near the mouth of the Noatak River, with a dozen smokejumpers deployed to the Mulik Hills and Hugo Creek Fires. The two are about a mile apart.

Ipsen says the biggest fire in the state has been burning in the Noatak National Preserve, about 120 miles northeast of Kotzebue.

“An estimated 11,000 acres,” Ipsen said. “And that estimation is from satellite imagery.”

She says right now, the fire isn’t threatening any buildings or allotments, and the fire service is letting it burn out naturally while keeping an eye on it.

Ipsen says temperatures have been warm, but the forecast should shift by Thursday.

“We do have rains forecasted starting Thursday and Friday — there’s I believe a 70% chance in some areas,” Ipsen said. “So that’ll definitely help with the fires.”

Any wildfires can be reported to BLM Alaska Fire Services by calling 1-800-237-3633 or to your local authorities by calling 911.

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Wesley is a reporter for Alaska Public Media, covering primarily city government and Anchorage life. He previously worked at Alaska Public Media as a web editor, producer and education reporter before a two-year stint in Kotzebue, AK as News Director for KOTZ-AM.

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