Rain in interior Alaska was not enough to stop wildfires, officials say


A firefighter stands guard at the Clear Fire as crews conduct burnout operations to protect a structure (Cody Platz/Northwest Team 10)

Intense thunderstorms moved through parts of central and eastern interior Alaska on Sunday evening.

Severe thunderstorm warnings have been issued for remote areas northeast of Minto and south of Ester. National Weather Service meteorologist Kaitlyn Lardeo said the second storm’s radar signature indicated extreme conditions.

“We were looking at quarter-sized hail and also 60 MPH gusts of wind through it,” Lardeo said.

Lardeo said the weather service would like to hear from anyone who experienced the storms.

“Anyone who could have been in those warning zones,” she said. “Any camper or something.”

Lardeo said there was potential for a severe thunderstorm again later on Monday, followed by cooler, wetter weather as the week progressed.

“There is going to be a front that kind of moves northwest from the Arctic coast into the interior over the next few days,” Lardeo said. “This is going to help provide slightly cooler temperatures, as well as increasing the chance of precipitation in the area.”

Meanwhile, with several thousand lightning strikes over the past 24 hours and gusting winds, Red Flag wildfire danger warnings remain in effect for much of central and eastern inside. Fire Information Officer Jose Acosta said the state set a red flag record on Sunday.

“It was the 10th consecutive day of red flag warnings and topped a nine-day streak in 2015,” he said.

Acosta said the rain showers weren’t enough to stop the wildfires.

“It still remains much drier than we would like due to underlying moisture conditions in the soil and trees and then fuels,” he said.

More than 2.6 million acres have burned so far this season, and there are more than 250 active fires across the state. As of Monday morning, 17 fights were underway, including the Minto Lakes Fire north of Fairbanks, where Information Officer Derek Tisinger said the blaze sparked three spot fires south of the Chatanika River during the weekend.

“With aviation support, including the fire chief’s planes and helicopters, firefighters were able to scout locations and deploy hoses around them,” Tisinger said.

Tisinger said firefighters also continued to assess and protect 63 at-risk structures along the river, the Himalayan and Hayes Creek subdivisions, and Indigenous settlements on the southwest side of the blaze.

More than 280 people are working on the Minto Lakes fire, which has burned more than 36,000 acres. Lightning ignited the fire on June 21.

Crews are also continuing to work on the Clear Fire, which made a run in inland communities last week and, according to the Associated Press, burned down at least one house. The fire covers almost 70,000 acres and was also started by lightning last month.

[Sign up for Alaska Public Media’s daily newsletter to get our top stories delivered to your inbox.]

Betty K. Park