Salcha River Fire

Nearly 60 firefighters are responding to the Salcha River Fire, which is currently burning in a seven acre area roughly 25 air miles up the Salcha River. Photo courtesy of Tim Whitesell/Division of Forestry

Alaska saw a slight uptick in wildfires over the past few days due to weekend lightning strikes. There are currently several active fires in the Fairbanks area, but all are under control.

More than 50 firefighters from the White Mountain and Tanana Chiefs crews joined eight smokejumpers and four helitack firefighters to respond to the Salcha River Fire on Wednesday. The fire is an estimated seven acres and is not growing or moving, according to Tim Mowry, public information officer for the Alaska Division of Forestry. The burn is thought to have been caused by a lightning strike several days earlier.

Located approximately 25 air miles up the Salcha River from the Richardson Highway, the fire was initially reported at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. At the time, it was estimated to be roughly three acres, but grew to approximately seven acres within two hours. The fire is about a quarter mile to the south of the river. 

The Division of Forestry “launched an aggressive aerial assault” on the fire, including water and flame retardant drops. The tactic worked. By 7:45 p.m., the fire was in check and fire managers reported minimal spread after the drops.

One concern was that there are several cabins in the vicinity, but the fire does not currently pose a threat to any structures, according to the Alaska Division of Forestry.

Firefighters are still working to contain the fire, which will likely take until Sunday, said Mowry.

In addition to the Salcha River Fire, there are two other lighting-caused fires in the White Mountains about 30 miles north of Fairbanks. Neither fire appears to be showing much activity. Together, the Moose Creek Fire and the Zyryanka Fire have burned roughly 90 acres, according to Beth Ipsen, public affairs specialist for the Bureau of Land Management. Both fires were discovered on Tuesday. BLM Alaska Fire Service smokejumpers initially responded to the Moose Creek Fire, which is an estimated 60 acres. When firefighters arrived, they discovered an additional recently burned area about 1.5 miles away. The Zyryanka Fire has burned roughly 30 acres.

Currently, eight firefighters are working to contain the Moose Creek Fire and 20 are working on the Zyryanka Fire. The fires are remaining stable in size, so firefighters are patrolling the perimeters and extinguishing any hotspots.

Ipsen explained that the fires are in a limited management option area, meaning that the Bureau would typically let them burn because fire plays an important role in ecosystem revitalization. However, it is still early in the season and the Bureau “didn’t want them to become a problem later on,” Ipsen said. Moreover, the fires are just a few miles from a BLM public use cabin and the Wickersham Creek Trail Shelter, so the Bureau decided to take action.

According to BLM numbers, there were 34 active fires in Alaska as of Thursday, with four new fires. Ipsen pointed out, though, that despite the uptick in lightning strikes, humans remain the leading cause of fires in the state.

Contact reporter Maisie Thomas at 459-7544.