High ticket prices and lack of flights create challenges for fire crews coming to Alaska

A wildland firefighter in Alaska.
A wildland firefighter in Alaska.(KTUU)
Published: Jun. 6, 2022 at 7:02 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Over 50,000 acres have burned in wildfires across Alaska this summer as communities deal with high fire danger following a month of record heat in May.

Beth Ipsen, a spokesperson for the Alaska Fire Service, said they’ve bought up a total of 30 smokejumpers from the Lower 48 so far this summer. Monday morning a group of eight smokejumpers flew out of the Warren “Bud” Woods Palmer Municipal Airport to fight a fire outside of McGrath.

Usually, the specially trained wildland firefighting crews are flown up commercially, according to Ipsen. But that wasn’t the case this year, as they faced challenges getting the crews to Alaska.

“This year because of the lack of available flights and the high expense we ended up shuttling them with agency aircraft,” Ipsen said.

One of the first crews was flown on a Bureau of Land Management aircraft to Ketchikan, and Ipsen said a smokejumper plane from Fairbanks picked them up. The following crew of smokejumpers was flown by a U.S. Forest Service Sherpa airplane to Ketchikan and taken from there.

“A couple of weeks ago we couldn’t get them on a flight until five days out,” Ipsen said. “The smokejumpers that were coming from Redmond, Oregon, they just couldn’t find any commercial flights whatsoever.”

Ipsen added it was $3,000 round trip per crew member for the latest crew of 10 flying to Alaska. With high ticket prices and few seats available, Ipsen said they’re making reservations on a case-by-case basis versus relying on commercial airlines as they had in the past when they flew smaller crews to Alaska.

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