Combating the Clear fire

What fuels the fire and what’s needed to fight the flames
Published: Jul. 13, 2022 at 4:45 PM AKDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Beginning on June 21, 2022 the Clear Fire was on 9,555 acres, primarily burning land northeast of Anderson, Alaska. The blaze has since become one of the largest fires in the Fairbanks area as it continues to grow to the south and the east, now having burned around 70,000 acres.

Forrest Ownby, the fire behavior analyst for the Clear Fire helped explain the aggressiveness of the fire saying, “It’s primarily been driven because of fuels,” referring to the plants and structures in the area that are able to catch fire and feed the flames.

In the Clear area, Black Spruce make up the majority of the forest, and those trees are very susceptible to spreading fire. Contributing to that is a large swath of land near the Kobe Ag subdivision, south of Anderson, that saw a fire back in 2015. All the dead plant material mixed in with new growth creates easy fuel for a fire, allowing for rapid growth. While the Clear area also has hard woods such as Birch and Aspen, the conditions have been extremely dry, changing the behavior of those hardwood areas. Usually fires struggle to spread in hardwood; but with the dry conditions, the flames have been able to creep through the forest floor spreading heat to plant matter below the canopy.

Clear is a very flat area, which would usually help prevent the fire from growing; however due to eddies in the wind created by the Alaska Range, the fire has been able to fan out across the region.

One benefit of the geography in the area is large natural barriers surrounding the event. On the west side the Teklanika River has been able to hold off further spread, and as the burn heads east the Parks Hwy and Nenana River will act as barriers if the fire were to go that far.

Ownby also mentioned that marshy land in the northeast has diminished further spread.

In addition to the preexisting barriers, the management team has built a dozer line to act as extra protection before the Parks Hwy. Ownby explained that such barriers can be very effective “if [the fire’s] intensity is lower and it’s not running through the canopy of the trees.”

Ownby elaborated by saying that intense fires burning and spreading through a forest canopy tend to be able to expand at greater rates because light weight items like leaves can drift up while burning and potentially land in a dry area on the other side of a barrier like a road or a river.

Looking at the future of the Clear fire, the area remains in a “fuels and fire” advisory due to the dry conditions. Ownby said in order for the blaze to see some large scale suppression, the area would need to receive “three to four days of good, wetting rains.”

Copyright 2022 KTVF. All rights reserved.