Tundra fire slows but still targets Alaskan Native village

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A large fire burning on the tundra of southwest Alaska continued to move toward an Alaskan Native village on Saturday, but firefighters said its pace had slowed.

The East Fork fire, started by lightning May 31, stayed about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the Yup’ik village of St. Mary’s, according to a statement from Alaska Wildland Fire Information.

The fire was listed as 438 square kilometers (169 sq mi) in size, more than double the last estimate. The increase has been attributed to better mapping.

The tundra is a treeless area covered with low-lying plants, and the fire was fed by extremely dry grass and scrub full of alder and willow.

180 employees worked on the fire, more crews should arrive on Monday.

There are no mandatory evacuation orders, but about 700 residents of St. Mary’s and the nearby community of Pitkas Point have been ordered to prepare in case they have to leave.

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There were voluntary evacuations of local residents, as well as other residents of the nearby communities of Mountain Village and Pilot Station.

Early Saturday morning, firefighters ended a defensive burnout on the west side of the East Fork of the Andreafsky River to protect equipment and structures near a fish weir — a fence placed in flowing water to direct the movement of fish. The weirs were traditionally used for catching fish, but can also be used for managing and researching a fish population, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website.

St. Mary’s, a self-catering community, sits on the banks of the river. Firefighters also worked to protect structures on the east side of the weir and fortified a line of fire a half-mile (800 meters) outside of St. Mary’s. Aircraft have also dropped delay devices along this line.

Boats were used to transport firefighters to protect structures upstream from St. Mary’s. Crews have also worked to protect Alaska Native property.

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Hot, dry conditions were expected to continue Sunday, but a low pressure system moving in from the west could bring favorable conditions and the possibility of showers through Monday. It could also bring a wind switch that would help push fire away from villages, officials said in the statement.

St. Mary’s and Pitkas Point, which lie south at the confluence of the Andreafsky and Yukon Rivers, are approximately 450 miles (724 kilometers) west of Anchorage.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/national/2022/06/11/tundra-fire-slows-but-still-aiming-at-alaska-native-village/ Tundra fire slows but still targets Alaskan Native village

Sarah Y. Kim

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