ST. MARY’S, Alaska (KTUU) – The East Fork Fire is five miles from the village of St. Mary’s as the Alaska Type 2 Green Incident Management Team has taken over response to the state’s largest active blaze.
The East Fork Fire initially began on May 31 and was caused by a lightning strike. After estimates of the fire’s size remained stagnant for days at over 50,000 acres due to an inability to get close enough to the perimeter to accurately measure the East Fork Fire, the incident management team has now mapped the size at 108,347 acres. The fire is five miles from St. Mary’s and 4.5 miles from the primary fire line, and there are 180 firefighting personnel on the scene.
“Right now, we have that ready status, and that management decision point was made for about a five-mile threshold from the village to be ready, and then around a one-mile threshold for set,” incident management team spokesperson Emery Johnson said. “At that one-mile mark, they are, fire managers are prepping to do a back burn.”
Four communities are at the ready alert level. None have elevated to set or go.
There is no mandatory evacuation yet, but residents of St. Mary’s, Mountain Village, Pitkas Point and Pilot Station are asked to be ready to evacuate if the East Fork Fire continues moving south down the Yukon River.
“Overnight the fire continued to grow south toward St. Mary’s but at a slower rate than it has been,” the most recent Incident Management Team post read. “Last night at 2 AM, firefighters successfully implemented a defensive burnout, or firing operation, on the west side of the East Fork of the Andreafsky River to protect equipment and structures near the fish weir. They are currently burning on the east side of the weir to protect structures there.”
The incident management team took over from the Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service at 8 a.m. on Saturday and is led by Peter Butteri. An air quality advisory is in effect until Sunday at noon.
“Another checkline is being constructed between St. Mary’s and Mountain Village to further protect nearby allotments,” the incident management team post said. “Heavy equipment work continues to reinforce the contingency line north of the village. Existing lines are being reinforced and plumbed with hoses and pumps. Boats are moving personnel and equipment to protect structures upriver of St. Mary’s.”
Additionally, aircraft have continued dropping retardant between the East Fork Fire and St. Mary’s. Johnson said that if the fire gets within one mile, fire managers may engage in a back burn after establishing a safe perimeter behind the fire line.
“What they do is they introduced fire on the landscape from that holding feature up towards the fire to get rid of the fuel in between and it kind of creates another break so it’s a fight fire with fire type thing,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that additional crews were expected to be brought in to assist the existing personnel. The East Fork Fire is now responsible for burning over one-quarter of the entire wildfire acreage in Alaska this season.
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