Winds Disperse Smoke From Wildfires West of Fairbanks; Despite Rain, Fire Season Continues

Jun 15, 2018

A shift in winds has moved the wildfire smoke that blanketed Fairbanks Thursday, but National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Berg says it may yet drift back into town over the weekend.

“There’s a chance we could see a smoky haze in the area,” Berg said, “but we’re not anticipating any significant smoke moving into the area.”

Alaska Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry says the smoke is mainly coming from areas to the west, in the central Interior and western Interior. Those are the hotspots in the state for wildfires right now.

Smoke billows from the lightning-sparked Livingston Fire about 15 miles southwest of Fairbanks earlier this month. The smoke that blanketed the city Thursday came from big wildfires burning to the west of Fairbanks.
Credit Alaska Division of Forestry

“There are several large fires – y’know, 20-, 30- 40-thousand acres burning out near Galena, near Tanana, near Manley,” Mowry said. “And we’re just getting a whiff of that smoke into town now.”

The smoke is a nuisance. But, Mowry says, it serves as a reminder that despite recent rainy and cool weather, the fire season is just getting going

“What we tend to be concerned about is people getting complacent, because we have had cooler weather,” he said. “And we don’t want people to think that fire season is over by any means. Because in Alaska, all we need is four or five days of hot, dry, windy weather, and the fuels dry out really quickly and you’re sort of back to Square One.”

Mowry says Forestry is urging people to continue to be careful with fire, whether it’s in a burn pit or a campfire ring. That means not burning on a windy day. Also, keeping hand tools and water nearby to snuff sparks and to completely extinguish the fire after it’s burned down, to ensure it doesn’t spread.

“It does not have to be 70 or 80 degrees for a fire to start and spread,” he said. “It just needs dry fuel.”

Mowry also says this fire season could still turn out like other years that began with a cool and rainy spring – like 2004 and 2015, Alaska’s two biggest wildfire seasons on record.

“It’s mid-June, and there have been years when our fire seasons didn’t really kick off until now and even later,” he said.

The National Weather Service predicts more cool and rainy weather this weekend around the Interior. Berg says another blast of cool air from the north will likely bring temperatures down tonight in the Fairbanks area.

'It's mid-June, and there have been years when our fire seasons didn't really kick off until now.'
– Tim Mowry,
Division of Forestry

“So, the colder spots that we normally see – the Goldstream Valley, maybe some location in North Pole – could see temperatures dip down, although we don’t anticipate it to last very long.”

Berg says those headed south for the weekend should expect to run into some wind.

“To the south, as you get down to the Alaska Range, you could see breezy conditions through the passes,” he said. “We do have some gusts to around 50 miles per hour forecast for Isabel Pass and even down Antler Creek and Broad Pass area.”

The weather service has issued a wind advisory for areas southeast of Fairbanks, especially in the Eastern Alaska Range around Tok. Winds gusting up to 55 miles an hour are forecast through the weekend.