Updated at 5:35 p.m.
Fire season is ramping up as wildland firefighters responded to several lightning fires in the Fairbanks area. In addition to ongoing blazes, eight new fires were reported in Alaska Monday, most of them in the Interior.
The biggest concern is the Haystack Fire, located about 20 miles north of Fairbanks near the Haystack Subdivision.
“We’ve got our hands full,” said Alaska Division of Forestry public information officer Tim Mowry. The “roaring” fire grew to roughly 400 acres by Tuesday afternoon and has likely expanded further, according to a 5 p.m Tuesday news release from the Division of Forestry.
According to Mowry, the fire was reported to be five acres when it was discovered at 6:30 p.m. Monday. About 60 firefighters responded to the blaze, which was mostly held in-check through the night. However, the “aggressive attack” was ultimately not enough. The fire crossed containment lines around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday and grew rapidly, prompting an increased response, according to a Division of Forestry statement.
Firefighters and heavy equipment operators are working to establish containment lines on the south edge of the fire, as this is closest to the subdivision. Multiple aircraft and more than 50 personnel were working to control the fire Tuesday, with several additional crews slated to join.
The good news is that the fire, being pushed by winds from the southwest, is moving northwest, away from Haystack Subdivision. No evacuation is necessary at this time, Mowry said.
Also on Monday, the seven-acre Winter Trail Fire started less than a mile from Fort Knox Gold Mine, about 16 miles northeast of Fairbanks. Smokejumpers responded around 9:45 p.m. No resources were immediately threatened, and another crew was brought in Tuesday.
Both the Haystack and Winter Trail fires were caused by lightning, Mowry said.
Two other lightning fires — one classified as large and the other medium — started near Manly Hot Springs Monday night. Both fires were “very active” according to the Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Dry Creek Fire has burned 1,500 acres and the Zitziana River Fire has burned 300 acres. Smokejumpers initially responded to the fires. However, because neither fire posed an immediate threat, smokejumpers were redirected to attack the higher-priority Haystack Fire. Both Dry Creek and Zitziana fires are on monitor status.
Crews on Tuesday continued to tackle the Minto Lakes Fire, which was reported Sunday. The retardant line is holding well and minimal fire activity was reported, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center. Helitack firefighters were released from the fire Monday, and smokejumpers released on Tuesday. The goal is for the fire to be fully contained by the end of day Tuesday. The cause of the Minto Lakes Fire is still under investigation.
The three lightning fires east of the Dalton Highway are still burning. The Olsons Lake, Arctic Circle and Kanuti River fires have burned a combined 85 acres. The fires are burning in a BLM limited management option area and none are threatening valuable sites, so the fires are currently on monitor status, according to a BLM Alaska Fire Service statement.
Warm temperatures over the past few days have fostered ideal fire conditions in the Interior, so individuals should use caution when engaging in activities that could generate sparks. This includes using chainsaws and throwing out cigarette butts.
Along these lines, BLM issued fire restrictions for federal lands near the Steese Highway. The Fire Prevention order bans campfires, explosives and fireworks in a fire-prone area of black spruce north of Fairbanks near Gilmore Trail and north of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Facility on the Steese Highway.
Individuals interested in staying up to date wildland fire information can subscribe for updates by texting FNSB2021Wildfire to 266-787.
Contact reporter Maisie Thomas at 459-7544.