Wind shift helps crews battle 123k-acre East Fork, Apoon Pass fires
Damp conditions help front line, but officials warn community isn’t out of clear yet
ST. MARY’S, Alaska (KTUU) - The East Fork Fire and Apoon Pass Fire burning in Southwest Alaska have reached over 123,000 acres, according to an update Monday, but a shift in winds has helped fire crews battling the blaze.
The East Fork Fire came within 3.5 miles of the community of St. Mary’s, located near the confluence of the Andreafsky River and the Yukon River, but has slowed as it approaches the town, according to a post by the Alaska Wildland Fire Information site. Northerly winds have now shifted southwest, helping to push back the front line of the fire, which measures 29 miles across, according to officials.
Smokejumpers are also being deployed on the western edge of the fire, according to officials, along with water drops from aircraft.
The blaze, which ignited May 31 from a lightning strike, has over 200 personnel staffing it, according to officials. Mandatory evacuations have not yet been ordered for residents, although some elder residents of St. Mary’s have voluntarily left.
According to the Bureau of Land Management, there are 85 active wildfires burning across Alaska as of Monday, with seven of them staffed, accounting for 678,522 total acres.
Campfires, burn pits and open burns are not allowed in the Anchorage municipality, while the burn suspension for the Kenai Peninsula remains in effect, as do burn bans in the Delta and Fairbanks Prevention Areas.
A meeting to discuss the latest developments was held at the St. Mary’s elementary school Monday. During the meeting the Alaska Fire Service stated that cooler and damper weather conditions enabled crews to work the west flank with water-dropping aircraft. With similarly ideal conditions continuing through the week, they plan to take the same approach while adding smoke jumpers while also sending crews to the southern portion of the fire to attempt to bring the containment line to the Andreafsky River.
However, Incident Commander Peter Butteri stated that residents aren’t out of the clear just yet.
“Its early in the fire season, the weather can change and this fire can come back again and cause problems further down the season,” Butteri said. “Part of our job is to make sure we have a plan in place that takes that into account and helps keep you guys safe until this fire is out.”
The fire service has no plans to work on the northern flank as there are no properties at risk currently.
Residents were also cautioned that the wind shift is predicted to shift back north by June 16.
Correction: The East Fork and Apoon Pass fires combined to total over 153,000 acres at the time this article was published. The article initially said the East Fork Fire was more than 153,000 acres. In some online postings, the Bureau of Land Management is combining the totals of the East Fork and Apoon Pass fires when giving total acreage.
This story has been updated with additional information.
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