One Man's Alaska

Alaska forest fires still burning

June 22, 2007

There are two major forest fires burning in Alaska right now, one in Caribou Hills (20,000 acres, 300 miles to the southest), and one in Trapper Lake (5,000 acres, about 35 miles southeast of Talkeetna).

I was sleeping in bed most of the morning, thinking the nice dark was from the clouds, as we had thunderstorms for several hours last night. I laid there thinking "How nice it is to enjoy the dark for a little while, I'm so glad it's overcast and raining", then rolled over, and the clock showed 10:30 a.m.

But then it occurred to me that it wasn't raining, as the cabin roof is metal, and when it rains you can hear it very clearly upstairs. Going from restful to concerned in a blink of my foggy eyes, I rushed downstairs. Looking outside the cloud/smoke/ash was so thick it looked like the last moment of dusk, right before dusk turns to dark. (And don't forget this is the second-longest day of the year in Alaska, where it's light out pretty much 24 hours a day.)

Yesterday I found my radio and the local NPR radio station, so I turned it on. In a few moments a woman interrupted the regular programming to tell everyone not to panic, there are no extremely local fires, this is mostly smoke from the Caribou Hills fire (again, 300 miles away, the same distance as Chicago, Illinois to St. Louis, Missouri ).

She also reiterated that the other fire is in Trapper Lake, not Trapper Creek. Officials are now calling that fire the Big Su fire, to help clear up this confusion.

As I write this sentence I just learned that the Big Su fire is now over 6,000 acres, and threatening 40 cabins. I'm surprised that all the rain last night didn't help at all, but maybe they didn't get any. There is also a 1.5-acre fire burning off mile 139 of the Parks Highway.

For those of us not in immediate danger of fire, the biggest issue is air quality. My throat was sore earlier, but it's okay now. We had some rain later in the morning that helped take the ash out of the air, so it's lighter now, and easier to breath.

The size of these fires in square miles

One last note about the size of these fires: acres don't mean a lot of me at this scale, so I converted them to miles. A square mile has about 640 acres, so the Caribou Hills fire currently covers 31 square miles. Think of that as being five miles long as six miles wide, or, 31 miles long and one mile wide, if you prefer. Or, according to City Data, this fire is half the size of Louisville, Kentucky(!).

At 6,000 acres the Trapper Lake fire is now 9.4 square miles in size.

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