ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Firefighters are swinging into gear across Alaska as hot, dry weather has brought the arrival of wildfires about a month earlier than last year.
''Because of weather conditions right now, the fire danger is extreme'' in some areas, said Andy Williams of the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center in Fairbanks. ''The ground is still fairly wet, so the fires are fairly easy to put out.''
All of the fires so far are apparently human-caused, and many of those crop up close to structures, so firefighters have to respond quickly. In the Mat-Su Valley alone, ten fires already have been reported from burn barrels, said Morgan Miller of the Division of Forestry in Palmer.
One such fire over the weekend destroyed an outbuilding and threatened several other structures before volunteer firefighters and engines from the Division of Forestry put it out. That fire burned two acres.
The biggest fire in the state has scorched 25,400 acres on the bombing range at Fort Greely since it was sparked by military exercises Wednesday, Williams said Monday.
''Because of the possibility of exploding ordnance, we won't put people on the ground there,'' he said, but retardant was being dropped by aircraft to protect military equipment used to evaluate the bombing practice.
A DC-7 tanker loaded with fire retardant was dispatched Monday to help battle a blaze that started in the dump at Kalskag Sunday and burned more than 500 acres. Eight smokejumpers were sent to battle that fire, along with three emergency firefighter crews.
And a blaze near the entrance of Denali National Park and Preserve was curtained off Monday by eight smokejumpers after consuming about ten acres. A power line might have been the cause of that blaze, Williams said. The blaze was close enough to the Alaska Railroad to prevent trains from passing Sunday night.
On the Kenai Peninsula, 13 fires had burned about 26 acres over the past week, according to the Division of Forestry, and weather conditions are expected to be hot and dry for the next few days. Several fires on the Kenai Peninsula were on 'monitor status' Monday, including one that burned four acres in an area of large dead spruce trees at Bear Cove, on the south side of Kachemak Bay south of Homer.
''We're seeing early morning fire starts, and high temperatures in the 70s around 10 o'clock at night,'' said Crista Cady of the Kenai Peninsula Borough. ''It's putting us a few weeks to a month ahead of where we would be normally.''
And, said Williams in Fairbanks, some lightning in the Interior is forecast toward the latter end of this week. Lightning strikes are a major cause of wildfires during the summer in that region.
So far this year, the fire coordination center reports, 141 fires statewide have burned about 28,000 acres.
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