Wildfires making Fairbanks air risky

Posted: Monday, August 15, 2005

FAIRBANKS - Smoke from Interior forest fires put Fairbanks air above the hazardous level.

The smoke was being carried on northwest winds from some of the state's largest wildfires. A high pressure dome over the Interior trapped the smoke near the ground.

"The satellite shows a solid pall of smoke from the south slopes of the Brooks Range, down across the Central Yukon, the entire eastern Interior of Alaska and down through the lower Yukon and Kuskokwim valley," said Ted Fathauer, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks. "It's even in Denali Park."

Dave Tyler, director of emergency operations for the Fairbanks North Star Borough, said air quality reached hazardous levels Friday for the first time this year.

Officials recommended that people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children remain indoors and that all people avoid outdoor exertion.

Conditions did not remain at a hazardous level consistently over the weekend. Tyler said Saturday that measurements are taken each hour, but officials do not get concerned with air quality unless conditions remain hazardous for 24 consecutive hours.

If air conditions stay hazardous for 48 hours, the borough, with Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and the Red Cross, would open a respite center, Tyler said.

"All we have to do is make a phone call and everything is in place and we're ready," Tyler said. "But things are looking up. We're expecting things to start getting better."

Fathauer said the best chance for relief will come midweek, when showers are possible. Rainfall, when it comes, will be the first precipitation since Aug. 6, a significant dry spell for what Fathauer said is normally the rainiest month of the year.

Near Eagle, where the Boundary Creek and Mission Creek fires are burning, conditions were affecting traffic and tourist activities.

According to the Alaska Department of Transportation, travel is not advised on the Taylor Highway from Columbia Creek to American Creek due to reduced visibility and trees weakened by fire. The road is open to traffic but motorists should expect delays and drive with caution.

A customer service agent with Holland America Line tours in Dawson City, Yukon Territory, said the company suspended riverboat cruises on the Yukon Queen II between Dawson City and Eagle on Friday and Saturday due to smoke. The company continues to transport visitors to Eagle by bus.

Last summer bus and cruise operations to Eagle were suspended for nearly a month during the fire season.

The Boundary Creek Fire, six miles south of Eagle and Eagle Village, is estimated at 65,500 acres and is 40 percent contained.

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