30 June 2015

Fires Are Spreading Like Crazy

So far in June, Alaska has seen 391 wildfires, with 152 of these starting up on the weekend of June 21-22, totaling more than 1.1 million acres of scorched earth, according to the Alaska Division of Forestry (DOF).

Alaska is no stranger to wildfires. The Alaska Division of Air Quality reports that in 2004, the state saw 701 fires which consumed more than 6.5 million acres of land, but they are on track to break that record before long.

(REUTERS/Matt Snyder/Alaska Division of Forestry) 

The Bogus Creek Fire burns in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Alaska, in this Alaska Division of Forestry picture taken June 7, 2015.

Alaska DOF official, Tim Mowry, told NBC News that the fires were caused by a relatively dry spring which left plains vulnerable to ignition via lightning, but what was unusual was the volume and variety of the fires.

"We have almost 300 fires going right now," said Mowry.

Alaska wildfire
Trees are consumed by flames as an out of control wildfire burns near Willow, Alaska, in this picture courtesy of Mat-Su Borough taken June 14, 2015. (REUTERS/Mat-Su Borough/Stefan Hinman) 

Fires actually serve a purpose in nature, as the charred vegetation returns minerals to soil, and makes way for young shoots to surface and provide food for animals like moose, but these fires are above and beyond the course of nature. The concentration and location of the fires make them a particular threat to people and structures.

The Alaska DOF tweeted the following to illustrate just how much these fires have gotten out of control:
Below is a map of wildfires nationwide from the National Interagency Fire Center. Alaska (bottom left) is a clear outlier:

(National Interagency Fire Center)
NBC reports that "The state [of Alaska] has sent 2,700 firefighters to combat the blazes, with hundreds of firefighters sometimes battling a single fire. Many fires are so far from populated areas that the state simply monitors them or leaves them alone entirely."

An Alaska State trooper vehicle sits on the Parks Highway near an out of control wildfire burning in Willow, Alaska, in this Alaska State trooper picture taken June 14, 2015.  (Reuters / Alaska State Troopers)
The Washington Post pointed out that these fires are troubling not only in their immediate impact on the landscape, but also in their potential to contribute to global warming:
"A major climate fear is that thawing permafrost will unleash massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the air as this plant life decomposes. Intense wildfires can burn not only trees but upper soil layers, which can hasten the thawing of permafrost (and also expose the ground more directly to the sun’s heat, which can also contribute to thawing)."

The setting sun is partially obscured by smoke from an out of control wildfire on the Parks Highway near Willow, Alaska, in this picture courtesy of Mat-Su Borough taken June 14, 2015.
(REUTERS/Mat-Su Borough/Stefan Hinman)

The National Weather Service in the Alaska region made the following tweet illustrating just how bad this year has already been for wildfires:
So the crisis of wildfires in Alaska seems to be burning on both ends of the candle, with the loss of millions of acres of forest also contributing to the release of carbon and potential warming of the climate.

The problem in Alaska is so widespread that there is little else to do besides hope that the remained er of the year brings rain and relief from the inferno.


Tewshooz said...

The saddest part for me is all the animals and their young that are being burned. Not to mention the huge loss of habitat.

Rev. Paul said...

Tewshooz, I understand your sadness. We must console ourselves with the fact that periodic fires, and the subsequent renewal of the affected areas, are a regular part of nature.

Old NFO said...

It's Nature in full anger...

Sandy said...


I just hope the fire departments are able to get control of those fires which are accessible before going into towns and communities.

Rev. Paul said...

NFO, quite true - and then some.

Sandy, most of the fires are far beyond any area served by fire departments. The State just hopes those burn out on their own.

Chickenmom said...

So sad. I hate fire. Wish I could sent our rain up your way. Prayers for the safety of those brave firefighters.

Rev. Paul said...

Chickenmom, the best thing we could hope for would be a slow, soaking rain that lasts for a couple of days. But it would have to be a very large storm, covering nearly 400,000 square miles.
And thank you for the prayers.

Rob said...

Padre, so what can we bring for the BBQ fire you have going??? Crazy summer that's for sure.

Rev. Paul said...

Rob, we're gonna need more steaks & sauce. I'm partial to Sweet Baby Ray's, but suit yourself. :)

Cathy said...

And we've had flooding here on Cape Cod. These pictures and stats are very sobering. We are such little corks being tossed around by the power and unpredictability of nature.

Rev. Paul said...

Cathy, if only the elected officials who think they know better could be convinced of our vulnerability to the random power of nature ... maybe they'd leave us alone?

Cathy said...

Not holding my breath.