Lightning strikes cause spot fires in Interior

Posted: Thursday, June 06, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Overcast skies and light rain slowed several large Alaska fires Wednesday, but firefighters were faced with another challenge -- putting out spot fires caused by lightning strikes.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for dry thunderstorms -- the ones that have lightning but do not produce rain -- for four Interior regions: the Upper Koyukuk Valley, Lower Koyukuk and Middle Yukon Valleys, Upper Kobuk and Noatak valleys and western Tanana Valley.

The warning was in effect until 10 p.m.

Firefighters put out small fires from at least two dry lightning strikes, said Pete Buist of the Division of Forestry.

If the clouds did not produce more rain, he predicted, firefighters in the Fairbanks area would be busier toward evening.

''Oh there will be more action tonight if we don't get significant rain,'' he said.

In the meantime, about 150 firefighters assigned to the Chena Hot Springs Road fire that began May 23 near Mile 52 were mopping up and rechecking structures along the road. Some work was being done in the area closest to the Chena Hot Springs Resort, which reopened for registered guests on Monday.

Three crews were released from the Chena fire over the weekend and Buist said more firefighters would be pulled off Wednesday night. A Type 2 Incident Management Team brought in for large wildfires was released Tuesday night.

While the fire has not diminished in size, it is quieter, Buist said.

''It has shrunk in activity,'' he said. The fire remains at about 22,000 acres.

Firefighters continued work on a large fire burning since May 23 southwest of Livengood, estimated at 95,000 acres. Nearly 350 firefighters including a Type 2 Incident Management Team remain assigned to the fire that had slowed considerably because of drenching rain.

Lightning strikes were observed Wednesday to the north and east of a large fire near McGrath, said Jean Withnell, a fire information officer attached to McGrath.

A Type 2 Incident Management Team and 10 crews remained assigned to the fire, estimated at about 100,000 acres. The fire began May 22 on the east side of Vinasale Mountain about 15 miles south of McGrath. At one point, it came to within 6 miles of the town but firefighters prevented it from getting any closer.

Several large cloud formations threatened to turn into thunderstorms Wednesday afternoon, Withnell said.

The northeast area of the fire remained quite active, she said.

''When we flew over there this morning you could see a fair amount of smoke,'' Withnell said.



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