In a summer haze

Alaska fire season surpasses 5 million acres, nears record

Posted: Wednesday, August 18, 2004

ANCHORAGE Alaska's spreading wildfires broke the 5 million-acre mark and were poised Tuesday to make the 2004 state wildfire season the worst ever recorded.

Dry, hot weather made conditions favorable for the fires to creep over the record 5.05 million acres burned in 1957. As of Tuesday morning, Alaska wildfires had burned 5.001 million acres, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

''It's going to be a tough week as far as suppression goes,'' said Kristy Bryner, a spokesperson for the center. ''This week could be the time when it is going to happen.''

Smoke from 98 Interior fires blanketed much of Alaska and well into the Lower 48 states from the Rocky Mountain Front of Montana to Minneapolis at the east edge, up to Hudson Bay and down over the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas.

The smoke prompted the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to issue a notice warning the elderly, children and others at risk to stay indoors and limit their physical activity.

Fire crews continue to allow the wildfires away from villages and residential areas to burn, but several communities remained threatened, Bryner said. Crews were fighting fires on their perimeters near Northway, Circle and Central, among other villages, she said.

No evacuation notices have been issued for any of those communities.

The Central complex of fires, about 100 miles northeast of Fairbanks, saw increased activity because of high temperatures and low humidity. The complex had burned 317,000 acres by Monday morning.

The Taylor complex near Tok was estimated at 1.1 million acres. Burnout operations were taking place to protect structures north of the Alaska Highway from Silver Creek to 10 Mile Creek.

The Boundary fire, at 508,922 acres, was 75 percent contained.

Several of the fires were merging and burning together, Bryner said.

Nine of the 98 wildfires burning in the state were staffed on Monday. Four new fires were reported on Sunday.

The forecast over the next several days calls for continued warm, dry weather, which is likely to aid the spread of the fires.

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