Fires expand in Alaska, now total over 2 million acres

Fires expand in Alaska, now total over 2 million acres
Rainy Pass Fire (Photo by Alaska Division of Forestry Air Attack) (Source: Alaska Division of Forestry Air Attack)

ANCHORAGE (KTUU/Gray News) - The acres burned by wildfires in Alaska has now exceeded 2 million after dry weather in the past 48 hours caused many Southwest fires to expand.

Yesterdays conflagrations puts the total acreage at an estimated 2,056,337.5.

Among the biggest jumps was the Smith Creek Fire, which grew from about 12,000 acres to 53,108 acres, causing the evacuation of Donlin Gold mine on Tuesday. Managers there used heavy equipment to create a control line and conducted firing operations to defend the 80 structures in the area.

Over 10,000 lightning strikes in Southwest added six new fires to the 585 now recorded in the state this year. In Southwest Alaska alone, about 410,000 acres are burning.

The Lost Jack Fire (previously called the Salmonberry Fire) is one of the top priorities in Southwest. Eighteen smokejumpers and six helitack personnel are at work fighting the fire, which is only about 100 acres, but which is only three miles north of Nikolai, a village of about ninety people.

There is also smoke and ash being reported in the village of Crooked Creek.

Meanwhile, firefighters trying to get to the scene of the Rainy Pass Fire were thwarted by low clouds. Seven firefighters were already at the scene, but the cloud cover prevented a 14-person helitack crew from flying in, as well as preventing air tankers from Palmer and Fairbanks from dropping retardant.

Aside from the personnel who were evacuated by helicopter, the Rainy Pass Lodge also is home to twenty horses. The horses were "released for their safety and are currently onsite," according to the Division of Forestry.

The fire is estimated at 120 acres as of 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

Copyright 2019 KTUU. Gray Television Group, Inc. contributed to the report. All rights reserved.