Pilot Point wildfire grows to 500 acres, but village safe from danger

Smoke rises from the Pilot Point Fire burning about 2 miles north of the village of Pilot Point...
Smoke rises from the Pilot Point Fire burning about 2 miles north of the village of Pilot Point on the Alaska Peninsula. Smokejumpers used the road along the edge of the fire seen in this photo as an anchor point for a burn operation to keep the fire north of the village and to protect the airport.(Photo courtesy Duane Morris/Alaska Division of Forestry)
Published: May. 24, 2021 at 8:07 PM AKDT|Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 1:50 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Division of Forestry said the wildfire that is burning land near the village of Pilot Point in Southwest Alaska has grown to about 500 acres, but the village is safe from any immediate danger.

A 12-person smokejumper crew that arrived Monday afternoon managed to help lead the wildfire away from the remote village of about 65 residents on the Alaska Peninsula, according to the division’s Tuesday morning press release. It reportedly began in the local dump, and escaped out into the grass.

The crew utilized a road north of the village that runs between the local airport and dump. Using the roadway as an anchor point, they led the fire east for approximately 3 and 1/2 miles Monday night, according to the release.

The division said the burn operation successfully protected the village’s airstrip and its wooden power poles.

Smokejumpers combated the flames until midnight and had roughly 2 miles to burn Tuesday to secure the tail end of the wildfire, according to the release. It added that they returned to battle against the flames at 7 a.m.

The division said a 21-person Pioneer Peak Interagency Hotshot crew was mobilizing Tuesday to relieve at least eight of the smokejumpers who initially arrived to combat the wildfire.

Smokejumpers left early Monday afternoon for the scene about 2 and 1/2 miles north of the village. By the time the 12 crew members arrived from Fairbanks about two hours later, the fire had grown from 1 acre to about 250.

Local residents tried to put it out but were unsuccessful due to 15-20 mph winds thwarting their efforts, the release said. Locals eventually called the Division of Forestry, said Public Information Officer Tim Mowry said.

The fire had been moving away from Pilot Point, Mowry said Monday, and pushed west by southeast winds.

While smokejumpers from Fairbanks have responded to a few fires via ground transportation already this year, this marked the first actual jump of the fire season for them, Mowry said.

An air tanker from Palmer also dumped a load of fire retardant on the blaze Monday — the first retardant drop of the fire season, Mowry said. For the drop, the Division of Forestry used a newer model tanker that is faster, has more capacity and better fuel efficiency, he said.

The fire had been traveling away from Pilot Point, toward Ugashik Bay, Mowry said Monday.

“Southeast winds continue to push the fire west toward (Ugashik) Bay and it is currently about a half mile from the water,” officials wrote in an updated post on the Division of Forestry’s Facebook page on Monday. “... Smokejumpers are formulating a plan to burn around the Pilot Point airport toward the heel of the fire to protect infrastructure there if threatened.”

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Editor’s note: This is story has been updated with information from the Alaska Division of Forestry.