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Wildfires generate ‘unhealthful’ smoke around Interior, statewide

Smoke billows Sunday from the Crater Mountain Fire, near Takotna, in the western Interior.
Tim Nolan/National Park Service
Smoke billows Sunday from the Crater Mountain Fire, near Takotna, in the western Interior.

Meteorologist doesn't 'see any end' soon to smoky skies

Smoke from wildfires around the eastern Interior has led the National Weather Service to extend a dense smoke advisory for the Fairbanks area into Wednesday morning.

Hot, dry conditions combined with atmospheric instability are creating perfect conditions for thunderstorms that are sparking wildfires and sending smoke across areas of mainland Alaska, including Fairbanks.

“The last couple of years, we’ve had fires pretty close to the communities – Fairbanks, Delta Junction, Nenana – so, unfortunately, that’s the larger populations, and they’re impacted the greatest,” says Mark Smith, a meteorologist for the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Air Quality Division.

Smith issues smoke forecasts and air-quality advisories, like the current one for Fairbanks alerting residents to unhealthy levels of smoke mainly from the 47,000-acre McDonald Fire and the newer 3,200-acre Clear Fire, both burning in the Tanana Flats south of the city.

“You’re seeing the greatest impacts this past weekend with the Clear Fire, which is quite a bit closer to Fairbanks,” Smith said Monday.

DEC says the smoke contains high levels of PM-2.5 particulates, and advises people with respiratory or heart disease, and the elderly and children, all to avoid prolonged exertion in those conditions. Smith says most other area fires don’t yet present a threat.

'Tons of fires out there'

“There’s tons of fires out there,” he said, “but not that many that are producing a lot of tonnage of the PM2.5, and filling the atmosphere with it.”

He says smoke tends to settle in overnight.

“Where we start to see the impact is at night, when the winds kind of calm down and the smoke and smoldering from the fires just kind of fill the whole valley there.”

Smith says fire-conducive weather pattern is likely to persist at least through this week.

“With the high pressure over us right now, and into Canada, you’re definitely going to see a lot more drying,” he said. “The fuels will be burnable, so I just don’t see any end in sight.”

The National Weather Service forecast calls for daytime high temperatures in the low 80s and overnight lows in the upper 50s, with a 20 percent chance of isolated thunderstorms. So, we’ll all be living with smoke for a while.

Smith says anyone who’d like to check out smoke forecasts and advisories should go to the web page he manages. “If you just type into Google ‘DEC air-quality advisories,’ it should take you right to that page.”

Editor's note: Other wildfire and air-quality information is available through the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Air Quality Division wildfire smoke section AirNow fire map and AirNow air quality and UAFsmoke.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.