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Alaska Wildfires Burn 80,000 Acres

More than a dozen blazes sparked by lightning char spruce and tundra in the state's interior. Hot weather is hindering fire crews.

June 22, 2004|From Associated Press

ANCHORAGE — Wildfires started by lightning had burned more than 80,000 acres in Alaska's interior Monday.

A series of 15 fires, burning in black spruce and tundra, scorched 55,000 acres.

The largest of those blazes was the 33,000-acre Pingo fire, 10 miles north of the village of Venetie, on the edge of the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, fire information officer Gary Lehnhausen said. Also raging in the region was the 18,000-acre Winter Trail fire, he said.

Fire and weather conditions have prevented crews from clearing a fire line around the Pingo blaze.

The fire is burning on private land owned by the Venetie tribe, which has been concerned about protecting timber, fish and wildlife.

But the weather has been "so hot and so dry and the fuel conditions are so dense that we haven't been able to put firefighters on the ground," Lehnhausen said. "About a week ago, we had hotshots and smokejumpers get run off because it was just too hot."

On Monday afternoon -- the summer solstice, the longest day of the year -- it was about 90 degrees in the fire area. Thunder cells were building over the fire, creating downdrafts that made it too dangerous to send crews to battle the blaze, Lehnhausen said.

Lightning from the thunderstorms started at least one new fire Monday near Stevens Village, on the Yukon River about 160 miles southwest of Venetie, he said. Wilderness firefighters, called smokejumpers, were dispatched to the site.

Fire managers hoped to begin building a fire line on the Pingo blaze today, if weather is favorable. About 200 people have been assigned to the series of fires.

Elsewhere, the American Summit fire, about 15 miles south of Eagle, near the Yukon, Canada, border, had blackened about 10,000 acres, said Maggie Rogers, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Fire Service.

Just south of there, the 9,000-acre Chicken fire, in black spruce and tundra, was burning 50 miles northeast of Tok, forcing the intermittent closure of the Taylor Highway between mileposts 45 and 66.

The Boundary fire, 57 miles northeast of Fairbanks, had burned 6,200 acres of spruce and tundra. Crews are working on site protection where appropriate, but there was no immediate threat to homes, Rogers said.

Elsewhere in Alaska, the U.S. Forest Service has issued a fire danger alert for the Tongass National Forest in the southeast part of the state because of unusually warm, dry conditions.

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