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Environment

Smoke jumpers battle blazes 36 miles from Igiugig, monitor fires near Dillingham and King Salmon

220609 Tuklung River fire.
Izzy Ross
/
KDLG
An aerial view of the fire near the Tuklung River. June 9, 2022.

Several wildfires have spread across the Bristol Bay region within the last week. At least seven have burned over 3,000 acres each, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

The Koktuli River and Pike Creek fires north of Lake Iliamna are the largest at 29,516 acres and 25,967 acres respectively as of Monday. The two fires have merged, and have burned more than 55,000 acres 36 miles north of Igiugig.

Two Native allotments and two structures have been lost to the flames so far. At least eight smoke jumpers are on the scene and working with aircraft to slow progressions to other allotments in the area.

Brentwood Reid with the state Division of Forestry said Monday that crews are working to control the blaze.

“They are currently on the ground, they're doing structure protection along the Koktuli River," he said. "Crews went in yesterday (Sunday), they worked with retardant aircraft to slow the fire's progression towards allotments on the west side of fire 239."

To the south, the Pauls Creek fire is at 10,056 acres. It is three miles from the nearest allotment and less than 20 miles from King Salmon. That fire was discovered June 7 at only five acres.

Emergency response staff have dropped water to slow the fire’s growth and have begun to work on its eastern front. Structures have been identified near the north side of the fire as well.

Reid said the Division of Forestry is continuing to monitor the situation to protect fish camps and other infrastructure in the area.

“We did use some water dropping aircraft two days ago to kind of check the spread of that to the northeast. And we'll be taking a look at that and see how far it's progressing towards those allotments," he said.

The Iowithla River fire has burned 19,446 acres as of Monday. It is now about 10 miles from Dillingham and eight miles from the nearest Native allotment. It was 1,200 acres and 30 miles from the community just six days ago, June 8.

That fire is in a modified-management area, meaning it’s a lower priority since there are no known structures nearby. Reid said the division sent crews to survey that fire on Monday.

As for other large fires in the region, Reid said the Division of Forestry will continue to prioritize areas with assets such as Native allotments, cabins, and camps.

“It's not size as much as what's being threatened," he said. "And so it really is how close is it getting to the values at risk. As it starts to get closer to values, that's whenever they will start prioritizing getting resources in there.”

The Kokwok River fire has grown to 22,053 acres from just 1,000 acres last week. It's about three miles from the nearest allotment and 15 miles north of Aleknagik.

The Contact Creek fire in Katmai National Park was at 10,321 acres as of Monday. That fire is 38 miles southeast of King Salmon.

The Tuklung River fire between Manokotak and Togiak has burned 3,500 acres, up from just 10 acres when it was discovered on June 6.

Cooler temperatures and some rain is forecast for the Bristol Bay Area this week. A burn ban is in effect in Dillingham.

This is a developing story.

Get in touch with the authors at brian@kdlg.org izzy@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.