ALASKAN WILDFIRES CONSUME MORE THAN ONE-MILLION ACRES
July 2, 2004 — A pall of smoke the size of Texas continues to blanket most of Alaska, as several dozen wildfires continue to burn out of control. More than a million acres have burned in the state. There are currently 61 active fires in the state, mostly in the eastern interior, and in an area starting roughly 20 miles north and east of the city of Fairbanks. Of the 61 fires, 51 are uncontained, according to the NOAA National Weather Service. (Click NOAA satellite image for larger view of Alaska wildfires taken on June 30, 2004, at 10:30 p.m. EDT. Click here for high resolution version, which is a large file. Please credit “NOAA.”)
Winds that are currently pushing the fire and smoke towards Fairbanks are expected to shift from their current northeast direction to the southwest by Saturday morning. With this shift in winds, air quality problems currently being experienced in Fairbanks should be alleviated. For the fires, however, weather conditions are not expected to significantly improve anytime in the next several days.
a team of 200 U.S. Forest Service firefighters began arriving at the NOAA
Fairbanks Command and Data Acquisition Station to establish a logistical
base of operations. On Thursday, large wildfires were seen near the station,
prompting concerns that the facility might be evacuated. The station is
part of the NOAA Satellites and Information
For NOAA National Weather Service forecasters in Fairbanks, the fires have been especially challenging, since for a time there were concerns the Fairbanks Weather Forecast Office would be evacuated.
During the past few days, evacuations of residents and tourists have occurred along the Taylor Highway (approximately 200 people) and along the Steese Highway (about 27 residences). Since the morning of June 28, visibility in the Fairbanks area has been reduced to one-quarter to one-half mile most of the time, accompanied by falling ash from the active fires. (Click NOAA satellite image for larger view of fires and smoke detected across Alaska and across the continental USA taken on July 2, 2004, at 5:41 a.m. EDT. Click here for latest view. Please credit “NOAA.”)
The FAA's Pedro Dome Doppler radar is also in jeopardy from the approaching fire. The fire was 23 miles (20 nautical miles) north of the facility, with winds forecasted to continue to drive the fire in that general direction. Fire teams successfully built a fire break upstream of Pedro Dome, where the Fairbanks area WSR-88D NEXRAD radar is located. Active firefighting is proceeding on the southern flanks of this fire, known now as the "Boundary" fire. It is unknown how an anticipated increase in winds Friday will impact these efforts.
The NOAA National Weather Service forecast office in Fairbanks management and staff have been in nearly constant communication with the various state and federal fire agencies over the past several days. Fire weather products and services have been routinely issued and communicated with customers and partners. An Incident Meteorologist (IMET) has arrived from the "lower 48" to augment the WFO staff in response to the increase in spot forecasts and fire weather activities for the duration of this event.
NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nationís coastal and marine resources. NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.