A Tundra Wildfire Is Advancing on an Alaska Native Settlement

A tundra wildfire grew closer to an Alaska Native settlement in southwest Alaska on Sunday, but no necessary evacuations were issued, according to fire authorities.

According to Alaska Wildland Fire Information, the East Fork fire was within 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers) of St. Mary’s.

Despite moving 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) closer to the Yup’ik settlement since Saturday, fire officials said progress has stalled due to good weather conditions.

With growing humidity, temperatures were somewhat lower, which may have helped to mitigate fire conditions.

Winds are forecast to stay constant from the north, assisting in the movement of the fire into inhabited areas.

Tundra wildfires came close to Alaska

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(Photo : Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Amid the relatively treeless tundra of southwest Alaska, the fire is burning in dry grass and plants like alder and willow. Lightning ignited the fire on May 31, as per AP News.

Firefighters are working to reinforce major and secondary fire lines between St. Mary’s and the surrounding villages of Pitkas Point and Mountain Village, as well as properties, such as cottages.

The fire has destroyed no structures.

Meanwhile, another fire is burning northwest of the East Fork fire, although it is still 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Mountain Village.

The East Fork fire, which has expanded to 190 square miles, has 204 workers working on it (492 square kilometers).

Additional employees are anticipated to come Monday when the weather is predicted to improve much further.

Furthermore, cloud cover has risen, humidity has increased, and temperatures have cooled.

The front may also shift the wind direction to the southwest, which would push the fire away from the settlements, according to officials.

Even though no mandatory evacuations have been ordered, the 700 inhabitants of St. Mary’s and Pitkas Point, some 10 miles (16 kilometers) south, have been on high alert since Friday to prepare for an evacuation.

Nearly 150 people from the impacted areas have already migrated to Bethel, a hub settlement in southwest Alaska.

According to Rick Thoman, a climate scientist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ International Arctic Research Center, climate change played a part in the unprecedented fire.

He claimed that this is the greatest documented wildfire in the lower Yukon River basin, according to Alaska Fire Service data dating back to the 1940s.

Much larger fires have been reported barely 50 or 60 miles (97 kilometers) north of St. Mary’s, but they were in boreal woods.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, where the tundra fire is raging, lost its snowpack early this year, taking longer for grass and other plants to dry out.

It was the ideal storm for this fire, which was ignited during the region’s hottest time on record lately.

Also Read: Wildfires Increase Rate Of Permafrost Thaw In Arctic Tundra, Researchers Say

Indigenous people being relocated

According to Jeremy Zidek, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, some 80 village elders and those with health problems were transferred to the Alaska National Guard Armory in Bethel on Thursday, as per US News.

The passengers were flown to Bethel by two businesses that provide commuter flight service in remote western Alaska.

Yute Commuter Services, for example, conducted 12 trips out of St. Mary’s on its six-seat aircraft, according to Andrew Flagg, the company’s station manager in Bethel.

He claimed they were instructed to provide drinking water to the town on Friday so that it could be distributed to the firemen.

About 450 miles west of St. Mary’s lies Pitkas Point, which is at the junction of the Andreafsky and Yukon rivers.

Related article: Wind Erosion and Arctic Tundra: Carbon Effects

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