Interior pilots warned of smoke dangers from fires

Posted: Monday, July 10, 2000

FAIRBANKS -- Heavy smoke from a series of Interior fires and the increased air traffic of firefighting planes could pose a hazard to private pilots, fire officials say.

``The fires in our operating space include a large area of the central Interior,'' said Alaska Fire Service spokesman Andy Williams. ``We do discourage sightseeing, people just going out to take a look at the fires.''

The fire service reports that 33 fires are burning throughout the state, including the 165,000-acre Zitziana fire south of Manley, the 106,000-acre Bering Creek fire southwest of Tanana, and the 34,000-acre Bearpaw Mountain fire west of the Kantishna River.

Those three fires are responsible for most of the smoke in the Fairbanks area.

Firefighting aircraft include helicopters, smokejumper aircraft, detection planes and retardant tankers, Williams said.

``One large fire can have as many as 30 different aircraft assigned to it,'' Williams said. ``There are many different types of aircraft at different altitudes.''

There have been near-collisions between firefighting aircraft and private planes in the past, but none so far this year, Williams said.

Fire crews are still working to protect cabins in the path of fires statewide, Williams said.

Nearly 70 firefighters are working on the Zitziana fire, according to a fire service report. About 75 firefighters are working on the Bering Creek fire. Several smokejumpers are working within the Bearpaw Mountain fire to protect cabins.

Two new fires were started by lightning Saturday, one of them on a Yukon River island west of Beaver. A half-dozen smokejumpers responded to that 7-acre blaze.

Williams said smoky conditions in the Fairbanks area are likely to continue.

``Until it rains or until the wind shifts and blows in the opposite direction, there is likely to be periods of smoke,'' he said.

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