Light rains give Alaska firefighters brief respite

Posted: Wednesday, June 02, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Light rain fell Tuesday on some of the dozens of wildfires burning in Alaska's interior, briefly discouraging fire growth. Fire managers said that won't do much good, however, if the ongoing parched weather drags on as expected.

Alaska Fire Service, Tom Berglund / The Associated Press
Alaska Fire Service, Tom Berglund / The Associated Press

As of Tuesday, there were 95 active fires burning. Firefighting crews were assigned to 13 of them.

Fire information officer Bob Summerfield said the scattered showers that fell are expected to set the fire behavior back a day or two. But with warmer days predicted through the week, he said managers will soon be "back where we started."

"It's just a temporary reprieve," he said.

So far this year, 275 fires have burned about 550 square miles in Alaska.

The fire season was uncharacteristically active in May, more like behavior that crews see in July, according to fire managers. They blamed consistently high temperatures, low humidity, dry vegetation and wind for creating extreme conditions easily flared by lightning or people.

Significant blazes burning Tuesday included the Toklat fire, the largest one currently burning in the state. It has burned nearly 200 square miles southwest of Nenana.

In the southern part of the state, the Eklutna Lake fire 20 miles north of Anchorage was spreading fast and has grown to about 2 square miles since it was discovered Saturday.

Another being aggressively fought is the 25-square-mile Gilles Creek fire near Delta Junction. The fire prompted a halt in operations of the Pogo Gold mine, where electricity was shut off as crews built fire lines along a road that leads to the mine. Power remained off Tuesday, fire information officer Tom Lavagnino said.

Half of the fire was touched by the rains, which tamped down the blaze a bit, although the southern end was fairly active, according to Lavagnino. As with other fire officials, he expected the cooler, wetter weather to be short-lived before having any real impact.

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