Weekend thunderstorms ignite over 15 fires in Interior

Published: Jun. 1, 2020 at 5:49 PM AKDT
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Lightning strikes from a series of thunderstorms occurring throughout Saturday and Sunday have sparked at least 15 fires in the Interior, according to the Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Services.

More than 5,000 lightning strikes over the weekend ignited several fires in the Southern Interior, including the areas of Glenallen, Bethel, McGrath, as well as the Clear Creek Fire burning in the Tanana Flats training area about nine miles south of Fairbanks.

"Most of these fires [are] pretty remote and don't pose, at this point, a huge risk," said fire information officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry Tim Mowry. "Obviously we don't want them to get huge and become sort of nuisance fires with smoke all summer long. Fortunately, none of those fires were in urban areas."

Thunderstorms similar to this weekend's will continue Monday and Tuesday, before tapering off throughout the week, according to meteorologist with the Fairbanks National Weather Service, Jim Brader.

Mowry says there are two fire seasons; in April and May, they typically attend to human-caused fires, while in June and July they are focused on naturally-caused fires such as lightning strikes.

"Mother nature was right on schedule this year," said Mowry. "I think 90% of our lightning-caused fires are over a 70-day period and pretty much that is the last week of May through the first week of July."

Wind, thunderstorms and lightning are expected to dissipate as the week continues, but Brader shared some precautionary advice during a thunderstorm.

"It is safest to be in a car [inside, without touching the metal] or in a house. The rule of thumb is to wait until 30 minutes after you have heard the thunder, and then after you haven't heard the thunder for 30 minutes, then it is safe to go back out."

While the Division of Forestry addresses natural-caused fires throughout the Interior, they want to remind the public of the measures to prevent human-caused fires.

"With lightning coming into play now, that is going to put a lot on our plates, depending on what kind of lightning activity we have, so we will be plenty busy with that kind of stuff, so we don't need human-caused fires at this point to contribute to that," said Mowry. "If you're having a campfire, if you're using a burn barrel, if you're doing any brush pile burning, just be careful, follow the guidelines on your permit. If you have a campfire, keep it small, have water and tools on hand, never leave it unattended, and most importantly, make sure it is completely out, cold to the touch, before you leave."

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