Wildfire smoke has worsened air quality across the central and eastern interior and western Yukon Territory. On Tuesday, communities in Anderson, Clear and Clear Space Force Station were advised to prepare a “go bag.” Forecast thunderstorms could bring lightning that could start new wildfires.
The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center (AICC) on Wednesday issued a readiness level of 5, the highest level, for the seventh consecutive year. The designation is given “when large fires occur in multiple areas requiring emergency management teams” and is based on “fire conditions, likelihood of new ignitions, potential for extreme fire behavior, forecast weather, and resource availability.”
Alaska’s June wildfires break records, fueled by hot, dry weather
Hot, dry conditions are fueling this year’s unprecedented activity. Snow cover was unusually sparse in the state’s southwest this winter, followed by a dry and warm spring. A steadily warming atmosphere caused by human-caused climate change has also lengthened the growing season and increased the amount of trees and plants used for fuel.
Then came the flash and provided the necessary initial spark. A burst of thunderstorms in late May and early June brought lightning and ignited vegetation. Communities were evacuated and thick plumes of smoke appeared Fairbanks.
More than a million acres had burned as of June 18, over a week earlier than any other season in the modern record.
One of the wildfires that ignited in June, known as Upper Talarik, has burned down an encampment linked to the Pebble Mine project, a controversial proposal to build a huge open-pit gold and copper mine above Bristol Bay, the most productive sockeye salmon the world fisheries.
Mike Heatwole, a spokesman for Pebble Limited Partnership, said the fire burned down much of the company’s supply depot on July 3, which is located about 17 miles northwest of the township of Iliamna.
“It’s important to note that we only have supplies and no staff at this camp,” Heatwole said. “This way, our field service was never in danger.”
EPA proposes safeguards for world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery
Joe Holzinger, a spokesman for the Lime Fire complex — an area encompassing 18 separate fires all sparked by lightning, including upper Talarik, which together have already burned 782,000 acres — said Pebble Mine officials are planning this together with firefighters Visit the site and assess the damage on Thursday.
Environmentalists have long campaigned to prevent the mine from being built, and the Biden administration is considering banning such development in the area. Mary Catharine Martin, a spokeswoman for SalmonState, an environmental organization, described the Pebble project as “on political life support and now their liability has just increased.”
“It’s a mess on state land,” she said.
What you need to know about the spread of forest fires
Last weekend, another round of thunderstorms brought an extraordinary lightning siege that worsened fire conditions. An unusual weather pattern over the North Pacific began pumping moisture into central Alaska starting Friday, allowing daily rounds of thunderstorms to develop over mountains in the eastern parts of the state and northwestern Yukon. As these storms crept northwest through Alaska’s interior, thousands of lightning strikes lit up the region.
As of Saturday, there were more than 7,180 lightning strikes across Alaska and adjacent parts of Canada, according to the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service. The next day another 10,500 lightning strikes. The tally is among Alaska’s highest two-day flash totals in the past decade.
Thunderstorms are not uncommon in the Alaskan summer, but this level of storms is fairly unusual.
Rick Thoman, a climate expert working with the University of Alaska’s International Arctic Research Center, acknowledges that historical numbers of lightning strikes are hard to come by, but in his experience, “the number of lightning strikes over the weekend, with a two-day total, is almost 18,000 strikes in and near Alaska” was extraordinary, the kind of barrage that “probably only happens once every few summers.”
On Monday and Tuesday, there were an additional 10,195 strikes as of 10 p.m. Alaska time on Tuesday.
Forecasters believe the unusually active lightning will worsen the fire situation for the state, leading to numerous ignitions, each of which could grow into large wildfires.
More than 50 wildfires have broken out since Sunday, and more are likely to develop into next weekend as lightning strikes and blazes, initially too small to detect, spread.
Red flag warnings continue for the central and eastern interior. Warnings for the Alaska Range will end after midnight, but will continue elsewhere through Thursday evening. Dense smoke will continue to affect the central and eastern interior. #akwx pic.twitter.com/zrcfpurxfO
— NWS Fairbanks (@NWSFairbanks) July 5, 2022
The National Weather Service’s office in Fairbanks has issued a red flag warning for fire weather across much of the interior. “Sufficient lightning,” the warning advises — up to “5,000 lightning strikes per day” — “could lead to numerous new fire outbreaks by Friday.”
Wildfires are common in the 49th state. Triggered by lightning and human activity, they tear through the extremely combustible black spruce forests that cover Alaska’s permafrost between May and August. In the average wildfire season between 1950 and 2019, around 975,000 acres burned in the state, according to the AICC.
Some years have almost no wildfire activity, while others show a combination of atmospheric conditions for wildfire development and spread, such as: B. dry conditions, frequent lightning-producing thunderstorms and heat waves.
2022 is preparing to be one of the more active years. Only another year – 2015 – had seen more burnt acres on the reliable record at this point. Fires in 2015 burned more than 5 million acres of Alaskan wilderness.
Kasha Patel contributed to this report.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2022/07/06/wildfire-alaska-record-july-burned/ Extreme lightning strikes add more wildfires to Alaska’s historic season