Levelock threatened by wildfire

Aug 19, 2019

As of this morning, the fire was about half a mile from the village – 500 yards from the airport and 300 yards from the community dump. SAVEC in King Salmon is the central point for those evacuating from Levelock. 

The wildfire outside of Levelock the evening of Aug.18, 2019.
Credit Courtesy of Janice Chukwak

A wildfire is dangerously close to the village of Levelock. The fire started northwest of the village and is burning south. It was called in to the Alaska Division of Forestry around midnight on Monday. Public Information Officer Tim Mowry said as of this morning, according to residents the fire was about half a mile from the village – 500 yards from the airport and 300 yards from the community dump.

A wildfire outside of Levelok the morning of Aug.19, 2019.
Credit Courtesy of Janice Chukwak

“It was two or three miles from the village,” he said. “Wind was pushing it toward the village. Some villagers went out and were trying to contain the fire. They spent a good portion of the night out there working on the fire, trying to put it out and keep it from pushing toward the village. But winds did push it closer to the village.”

Conditions are still too smoky to estimate the size of the fire, and Mowry did not know the cause. But he says the hot, dry weather south of the Alaska Range has resulted in dangerous conditions around the region.

Some residents have stayed behind to combat the fire, and the BLM Alaska Fire Service has deployed a group of eight smokejumpers to help them do so. Those jumpers were scheduled to arrive this afternoon.

The fire's location near Levelock in a screenshot from the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center wildland fire map.
Credit Courtesy of Alaska Wildland Fire Information

Most of Levelock’s approximately 60 residents have self-evacuated. Grant Aviation has made several flights to the village to bring more than 30 people to King Salmon.

This morning, people took to the water for safety. Janice Chukwak was one of about 15 on the F/V Ana Rose, floating in the Kvichak upriver from the village. She first heard about the fire yesterday evening.

“And then it really grew from that time. And then when I went out to the Levelock airport and that fire looked like it was 10 miles long, it looked so horrible,” she said.

Residents of Levelock in the Kvichak River on their way to the F/V Ana Rose.
Credit Courtesy of Janice Chukwak

Chukwak said thick smoke had covered the lower part of the village and the air quality there was poor. From the water, she couldn't see how far the fire had advanced.  

“It’s just horrible. The smoke is just horrible,” she said. “And I can’t see right where my house, my brother’s or my mom’s – how much closer it is. Cause my family, we all live in a little circle together. So that’s… what we’re getting.”

Chukwak flew out with Grant and is now at the Southwest Alaska Vocational Education Center in King Salmon. SAVEC is the check-in point for those evacuating from Levelock. It is designated as a shelter by the Bristol Bay Borough's emergency plan. According to the Bristol Bay Borough planner, Becky Savo, SAVEC is working with the Alaska State Troopers and the Bristol Bay Borough Fire Department to help count those coming from Levelock. Savo said that so far, approximately 40 evacuees have checked in with SAVEC.

This is a developing story and KDLG will update the page as more information becomes available.

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