Smokejumpers Deploy to Two Tundra Fires

by Ben Matheson on June 9, 2014

Tundra fire near the Gweek River on 6/6/2014. Photo courtesy of Alaska Smoke Jumpers.

Tundra fire near the Gweek River on 6/6/2014. Photo courtesy of Alaska Smoke Jumpers.

This weekend’s lighting ignited four wildfires in Southwest Alaska. Fire crews dropped smokejumpers on two tundra fires, including one that burned 24 acres northeast of Bethel.

On Thursday, smokejumpers responded to a fire near the Kisaralik river started by lightening. 4 smokejumper dropped along with portable pumps, hoses, and tools to beat down the fire which ultimately burned about .8 acres. Another on refuge burned a tenth of an acre before rain in the system put the fire out.

Tom Dean is the acting fire management officer in McGrath with the state Division of Forestry. His team stationed an airplane with smokejumpers in Bethel, so when lightening struck again Friday afternoon less than 10 miles northeast of Bethel near the Gweek River, Dean says they were very quickly up in the air on on scene.

“The sized up the fire as two acres in tundra with winds from the east at 15 miles per hour. 8 jumpers were deployed and they continued to address the fire throughout the evening,” said Dean.

The fire was being pushed by the wind and receiving no rain. Crews used pumps and hand tools to get around the perimeter.

Tundra fire near the Gweek River on 6/6/2014. Photo courtesy of Alaska Smoke Jumpers.

Tundra fire near the Gweek River on 6/6/2014. Photo courtesy of Alaska Smoke Jumpers.


“It does challenge a load of jumpers when something goes fairly quickly, 2 to 25 acres in a matter of a couple hours. But they did a great job of jumping right on it and called it contained,” said Dean.

By about 11 o’clock fire officials say the blaze was considered contained. Dean says the forecast will keep the fire danger lower in the coming days, but he says things can change quickly.

Y-K Delta Wildfires. Map from the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Y-K Delta Wildfires. Map from the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.


“If the sun comes out it only takes a short period of time before the fuels will burn again. Even though they get wet they dry out very quickly,” said Dean.

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