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article imageAlaska's wildfires threaten severe damage to life and property

By Karen Graham     Aug 30, 2019 in Environment
Juneau - Take the impacts from the climate crisis, throw in an incredibly warm and dry summer - and you one of the most destructive fire seasons Alaskan's have experienced in a number of years.
As of Thursday night, more than 200 wildfires were blazing in our most northern state, including a monster-sized wildfire, The Swan Lake fire that was ignited by lightning on June 5.
The Swan Lake fire, near Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula, has become the country's largest wildfire, growing to over 161,000 acres, as of Thursday night. If you add the Ethel Creek Fire near Koliganek that has burned over 18,000 acres, Alaska is currently home to two of the country's three largest blazes.
Reuters is reporting the blowing smoke from the Swan Lake fire has sent particulate pollution levels sky-high. And in the port town of Seward, thick smoke blowing south from the Swan Lake fire blotted out the normally spectacular views of the mountains and glaciers, forcing the cancellation of a number of tourist excursions.
“It’s been kind of a botched summer,” said Joe Drevets, who was working behind the counter at Seward’s Sea Bean Café. Brett Thomas, an operations section chief with Great Basin Team One said, “Hopefully, the level of smoke will diminish over the next few days."
Current wildfires in Alaska as of August 30  2019.
Current wildfires in Alaska as of August 30, 2019.
National Interagency Fire Center
On Aug. 25, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation issued an air quality advisory for areas impacted by the multiple fires. Just a few days prior, Gov. Mike Dunleavy had issued a disaster declaration.
“In a short amount of time, these wildfires have already cost dozens of Alaskan families everything they own. Many homes, personal belongings, and businesses are completely gone, and the disruption brought to their lives is unimaginable,” Dunleavy said in a press release.
“This declaration frees up financial assistance to help the victims of these devastating fires begin to rebuild their lives as quickly as possible.”
A summer of extremes
Thankfully, there have been no injuries or fatalities due to the fires, even though there have been 684 wildfires this year - with over 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) burned to date. These figures are far short of the record 6.6 million acres (2.7 million hectares) burned in 2004, however, this year’s fire total is part of a trend.
As Alaska warms, the size and frequency of wildfires will continue to grow. As a matter of fact, Alaska is warming at twice the rate of the global average. The most surprising thing is how ultra-dry conditions have been - with some fires breaking out within the city limits of some populated areas.
The wildfires are just one of a list of extremes plaguing Alaska this summer. We can add the record heat, lightning strikes in unusual places, the extraordinary meltdown of glaciers and widespread die-offs of animals, including whales, seals, birds, and thousands of pre-spawned salmon killed in waters with temperatures measured as high as 80 degrees F (26.7 C).
More about Wildfires, Alaska, swan lake fire, Climate crisis, ultradry conditions
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