Fire crews employ point protection around Levelock

Aug 23, 2019

Crews use point protection to defend the village and surrounding infrastructure. Tundra around Levelock will likely continue to burn until it rains. 

The fire line around Levelock, Aug. 21, 2019.
Credit Isabelle Ross/KDLG

The Levelock Fire is now estimated at 5,500 acres. Sam Harrel is a public information officer with the Division of Forestry, and he said crews have been working to protect the north and south of the village, as well as around the airstrip, by conducting controlled burns of vegetation outside their control lines.

“So if the main fire wants to make a run towards any of those valuable assets, it doesn’t have the energy to run right through and cross over their fire line,” he said.

The fire is still only 5% contained, and that number likely won't change until there is substantial rainfall. Crews are using a tactic called point protection, whereby they defend the community’s infrastructure without fighting fire in the surrounding area.

“So we’re getting pretty good defensible line for the village and the airstrip, but we may not put firefighters at risk, and the village personnel and such at risk to go chasing fire elsewhere in the tundra," he explained. 

The Levelock Fire coverage, Aug. 23, 2019.
Credit Alaska Fire Service

Emergency firefighting crews from Hooper Bay and Chevak, as well as people from King Salmon, are still working in Levelock. Volunteers from New Halen, Koliganek, Igiugig, Dillingham and New Stuyahok were able to return home yesterday. 

But while responders are making progress on the fire lines, people in town are experiencing heavier smoke today, in part due to those efforts. Deb Wassillie is one of the volunteer coordinators. She says they have been busy running food and drinks to the crews.

“We’re smothering throughout the village, around the whole village. The smokejumpers did control burning last night, and I’m thinking that’s why we have this smoke,” she said.

Even when burn operations are finished, residents of Levelock will likely continue to experience smoky conditions, since the fire is expected to burn in the surrounding tundra until rain falls.

The Alaska Fire Service reports that going forward, crews have planned more burn operations and will continue to suppress any fire that has crossed over control lines.

Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org 907-842-2200.