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Photos: Wildfires burn a million Alaska acres

A wildfire begun by Army live-fire artillery training had by July 7 grown to more than 40,000 acres in size, displacing some 1,200 Interior Alaskans living north of Fairbanks along the Chena Hot Springs Road and in nearby communities of Two Rivers and Pleasant Valley.
Lara Poirrier, Northern Source Images
A wildfire begun by Army live-fire artillery training had by July 7 grown to more than 40,000 acres in size, displacing some 1,200 Interior Alaskans living north of Fairbanks along the Chena Hot Springs Road and in nearby communities of Two Rivers and Pleasant Valley.
Lara Poirrier, Northern Source Images
A wildfire begun by Army live-fire artillery training had by July 7 grown to more than 40,000 acres in size, displacing some 1,200 Interior Alaskans living north of Fairbanks along the Chena Hot Springs Road and in nearby communities of Two Rivers and Pleasant Valley.
Lara Poirrier, Northern Source Images
A wildfire begun by Army live-fire artillery training had by July 7 grown to more than 40,000 acres in size, displacing some 1,200 Interior Alaskans living north of Fairbanks along the Chena Hot Springs Road and in nearby communities of Two Rivers and Pleasant Valley.
Lara Poirrier, Northern Source Images
A wildfire begun by Army live-fire artillery training had by July 7 grown to more than 40,000 acres in size, displacing some 1,200 Interior Alaskans living north of Fairbanks along the Chena Hot Springs Road and in nearby communities of Two Rivers and Pleasant Valley.
Lara Poirrier, Northern Source Images
A wildfire begun by Army live-fire artillery training had by July 7 grown to more than 40,000 acres in size, displacing some 1,200 Interior Alaskans living north of Fairbanks along the Chena Hot Springs Road and in nearby communities of Two Rivers and Pleasant Valley.
Lara Poirrier, Northern Source Images
A wildfire begun by Army live-fire artillery training had by July 7 grown to more than 40,000 acres in size, displacing some 1,200 Interior Alaskans living north of Fairbanks along the Chena Hot Springs Road and in nearby communities of Two Rivers and Pleasant Valley.
Lara Poirrier, Northern Source Images
A wildfire begun by Army live-fire artillery training had by July 7 grown to more than 40,000 acres in size, displacing some 1,200 Interior Alaskans living north of Fairbanks along the Chena Hot Springs Road and in nearby communities of Two Rivers and Pleasant Valley.
Lara Poirrier, Northern Source Images
Wildfire season continues across Alaska. A total of 109 fires currently are burning.
Courtesy Tracey Porreca
Fire season started late this year thanks to a frigid, record-breaking April -- cold temperature records were broken statewide, and snow blanketed Alaska through April and into May. Anchorage’s cyclists were hammered with snow on Bike to Work Day, May 17. Normally, late May sees warmer air from the Gulf of Alaska pulled north across the state, but this year, much of Alaska remained in a winter weather pattern.
Loren Holmes photo
An exception to the season, this early spring fire near Summit Lake on Kodiak Island started on May 14. The climate of the island in comparatively mild, much warmer than island areas of similar latitude. The Alaska Division of Forestry contained the blaze to a mere 30 acres.
Alaska Division of Forestry
Lightning ignited the Bitter Creek Fire near the village of Tok on May 31 and doubled in size over a single day. Shifting winds pushed the fire in many directions, twice toward the Alaska Highway, which caused traffic delays. Signs of spring rapidly emerged in late in the month, allowing a limited window for green up, a period when vegetation grows and dead grasses are replaced. The fire burned thousands of acres but destroyed no structures, and shortly thereafter, crews were dispatched to the growing number of fires statewide.
Clinton Northway photo
Hotshot crews, like the two firefighters pictured, are currently battling blazes stretching tens of thousands of acres. Pioneer Peak hotshots worked to extinguish burning snags on the Point MacKenzie Fire in late May, the same time crews managed the Bitter Creek Fire farther north. Firefighters held the extent of the blaze at 45 acres, but one cabin and a shed were destroyed.
Lafe Martyn/ Alaska Division of Forestry
Alaska's Pioneer Peak Hotshots smokejumpers helped contain the fire.
Alaska Division of Forestry photo
The Gannett Glacier fire crew worked to completely extinguish the Point MacKenzie Fire, which took about a week.
Courtesy: Alaska Division of Forestry
The Lime Hills fire has been burning since May 31 and has scorched about 200,000 acres. Numerous crews kept the fire away from Lime Village, as full protection was required due to the site’s cultural and historical significance. The village was one of the first Calista Corporation villages to get all of its land entitlements. Pockets of the large fire could last through recent rains in Southwest and spread as the summer goes on. Equipment is being backhauled from the area, however.
Francis Mitchell/Alaska Division of Forestry
Fire number 248: The Old Valdez Trail Fire, which started on June 16 near Harding Lake in the Interior. The Division of Forestry worked with the Salcha Volunteer Fire Department to protect homes and keep the fire from spreading north to the Richardson highway. The human caused fire was checked July 2 and declared out.
Tim Whitesell/Alaska Division of Forestry
A plane dumps fire retardant on the Moody Creek fire. The human-caused fire ignited on June 18; it’s simply being monitored on a day-to-day basis, only having burned 40 acres. A small wildfire, no doubt, but indicative of the amount of resources funneled toward extinguishing the state’s fires.
Tasha Shields/Alaska Division of Forestry
Smoke visible from the Alaska Highway of the Moon Lake Fire, located 10 miles west of Tanacross, population 136. Lightning sparked the fire on June 25, which, as of July 2, was zero percent contained. Fire managers are preparing to access the fire by boat while helicopters continue to do bucket work on the southeast corner of the blaze near the Tanana River. This summer, smoke from multiple fires have been visible in Alaska communities and from roadways.
Clinton Northway/Alaska Division of Forestry
The Excelsior fire started May 27 has burned 1,465 acres. Started by lightning, the fire has grown 465 acres since June 30.The fire is being monitored and no staff are currently fighting the fire.
Mike Trimmer/Alaska Division of Forestry
The Hoholitna Fire, burning 19 miles south of Sleetmute, was the center of wildfire management in Southwest over the June 28 weekend. Crews cleared growth around buildings, set up pumps and hoses and burned out wide patches of timber between homes. The fire has burned 2,900 acres, and fire managers have begun to pull resources out of the area, as significant rain in the region has halted the growth of many blazes.
Alaska Division of Forestry
Jerzy Shedlock

Wet weather across Alaska has curbed the ignition of new fires this week, but dry pockets are still increasing the total number of blazes. In Lime Village, a tiny collection of homes located in Southwest, the state’s previously largest fire considerably diminished, and crews are pulling out equipment and their operations post from the area. Currently, fire managers are focusing on a fire burning near Fairbanks, whose local government declared an evacuation watch.

On Tuesday, a total of 109 fires burned statewide. And 423 fires have burned 911,909 acres so far this year. The fire season began abruptly when wildfires, human- and lightning-caused, sparked in the Interior. It didn’t take long before the three agencies that manage fires in Alaska were calling for Outside help. States often exchange firefighters, as they work long hours but have time limitations to follow. Perhaps Arizona will need to call on its neighbors to recover from the loss of 19 hotshots who died battling a massive blaze earlier this week.

The Arizona-based fire burned down more than 200 homes, New York Daily News reported. Fires across Alaska cause limited alarm, as the state is sparsely populated. Alaska firefighters protect certain areas with more fervor, however, as protection is required by law.

The Lime Hills fire has been burning since May 31 and has scorched about 200,000 acres. Numerous crews kept the fire away from Lime Village, as full protection was required due to the site’s cultural and historical significance. The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center lists the fire at zero percent contained, but up to an inch of rain in the past 24 hours secured the community enough, allowing firefighters to leave.

The village, whose population floats around 20 to 40 people, is on the south bank of Stony River, 50 miles from the Kuskokwim River Junction. It was one of the first Calista Corporation villages to get all of its land entitlements. The nearby limestone hills have numerous caves, and one of the caves contained bone arrow points dating back 10,000 years, some of the oldest documented human evidence in the region. Lime Village has a fair amount of infrastructure but lost its school in 2007 when the student body fell below ten, a problem affecting many Alaska villages.

Pockets of the large fire could last through the rains and spread as the summer goes on. Structure protection will remain in place upriver from Lime Village, while hotshot crews previously in the area have been dispatched to fires near Fairbanks.

The Stuart Creek fire grew from 10,000 acres to 45,000 acres over the last two days. Smokejumpers, retardant tankers and water-scooping aircraft are heavily engaging the growing blaze, located seven miles from Chena Hot Springs Road; the Fairbanks North Star Borough issued Tuesday an evacuation watch for residents living between Mileposts 14 and 30 of the road. An AICC spokesperson said no structures have been damaged by the fire.

Weather conditions are dreary for much of Alaska as the week moves forward, and lightning strikes continue to touch down around the Interior, but mostly on damp or soon-to-be damp ground.

Contact Jerzy Shedlock at jerzy(at)alaskadispatch.com