Lightning strikes keep Alaska firefighters busy

Posted: Thursday, June 15, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Firefighters expect to stay busy the next few weeks fighting fires caused by lightning strikes until moist air from the Bering Sea cools off Alaska's Interior, fire officials said Wednesday.

Nearly 2,500 lightning strikes were recorded Tuesday across the Interior, sparking 11 new fires said Andy Williams, spokesman for Alaska Interagency Coordination Center at Fort Wainwright.

The fires included a 1,550-acre fire 25 mile west of Tanana and two 300-acres fires near Mooseheart Mountain southeast of Tanana.

Firefighters were called in to battle three of Tuesday's fires; one four miles north of Tanana, the second 10 miles southeast of Manley Hot Springs and a small fire on Fort Wainwright southeast of Fairbanks.

The fire north of Tanana had grown to 300 acres by Tuesday afternoon and was moving slowly along a ridge Wednesday in a southerly direction. Black spruce was fueling the blaze but its progress would be slowed if it reached a grove of hardwoods near Tanana, Williams said.

''Hardwood acts as a pretty good barrier,'' he said.

Eighteen firefighters were brought in Wednesday to fight the Tanana blaze, joining 10 smokejumpers and two helicopter attack crews. On Tuesday, an emergency fire crew was called to the 20-acre fire near Manley Hot Springs.

Cooler temperatures and rain were in the forecast for next week, Williams said.

''That should definitely quiet things down,'' he said.

Lightning strikes since Saturday had sparked several large fires, including a 3,300-acre blaze northeast of Bettles and a 1,900-acre fire near the Dall River northeast of Tanana. Both were being allowed to burn.

Bill Beebe, coastal regional fire management officer for the Division of Forestry, said there were a large number of lightning strikes over the weekend. On Saturday, there were 6,800 strikes, about twice the normal amount.

Weather patterns should shift by mid-July when moist air from the Bering Sea cools off the situation.

''It just brings on steady rain that quickly puts an end to the fire season ... just like clockwork,'' he said.

Last year, there were 486 fires and 151 of those were caused by lightning. The lightning-caused fires accounted for 97 percent of land burned.

''Alaska's forests are basically a fire-based ecosystem,'' Beebe said. ''Lightning is nature's way to regenerate those areas.''

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