As firefighters continue to tackle wildfires, Alaska Wildlife Troopers are urging hunters to adjust their plans in order to avoid active wildfire perimeters.
Alaska’s unusually volatile and prolonged wildfire season this year has extended into hunting season, creating challenges for firefighting crews and hunters alike. According to a notice published by troopers on Wednesday, of particular concern are popular game management units along the highway system between Homer and Talkeetna, where several wildfires are still burning as moose hunting seasons open.
“With general-hunt moose seasons opening Sunday in Game Management Unit 14A, fire crews working the Deshka Landing Wildfire have expressed concerns about having 200 firefighters in the Willow Swamp area with hunters nearby potentially shooting in their direction,” said Alaska Wildlife Troopers Captain Rex Leath in a news release.
According to Leath, that’s a legitimate safety concern not only in 14A, but anywhere around the perimeter of the Deshka Landing Wildfire; the McKinley Wildfire, currently burning between Willow and Talkeetna; the Swan Lake Wildfire, being fought on the Kenai Peninsula around Cooper Landing; and the North Fork and Caribou Lake wildfires north of Homer.
“All of these fires are happening right now in popular, road-accessible hunting areas,” Leath said, via release. “Firefighting crews and equipment are present around each fire perimeter and the best thing hunters can do is avoid these areas. That may mean changing plans, traveling well beyond active wildfires and hunting new country.”
Tim Mowry, spokesperson for the Alaska Division of Forestry, said that, while recent rainfall has quelled the fires in and around the Fairbanks area, hunters should still take care.
“Even up here, people just need to be cognizant if they’re in or around an area that was burning this summer — they still need to be aware of weakened trees,” Mowry said. “It doesn’t take much wind to knock these trees over if their roots have been burned.”
He also warned hunters to watch out for ash pits, where fires have burned up the root system of a tree. These pits can be hard to spot and may still be hot.
In addition to concerns over hunter safety, the release states troopers worry that “firefighting crews could be caught downrange of hunters seeking moose and other big game.” Hunters also may face logistical challenges in the form of road closures due to fire activity, poor visibility or air quality from smoke, and getting caught in the paths of rapidly moving fires.
“There’s a large chunk of the hunting public, for example, that uses Deshka Landing as the main access point for hunting in (GMU) 16B,” said Eddie Grasser, director of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Wildlife Conservation, in the release. The Deshka Landing Fire remains estimated at 2,217 acres and was 10% contained as of Thursday morning.
“Hunters need to be aware that trucks and trailers left near fire perimeters could impede firefighting activity or even become vulnerable to fire,” Grasser said.
Even while hunting well away from active wildfires this hunting season, hunters are asked to take extra precautions to see that new fires aren’t ignited. For information on fire safety, visit bit.ly/2TZ3nJ5.
Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.
Correction: Alaska Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry's name was misspelled in earlier versions of this story.