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North River Wildfire Smoke Spreads Across Norton Sound

North River Fire Outside Koyuk

Smoke from a sizable wildfire outside of Koyuk has been visible for almost a hundred miles in the surrounding Norton Sound area as the wind shifts.

Beth Ipsen, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service, says the North River blaze has grown roughly 20,000 acres in two days.

“It was very active yesterday; about 75% of the perimeter was active. It was backing, it was torching, it was spotting, large flame lengths that were seen. And it’s burning in black spruce; that’s why it’s putting up a lot of smoke, and that’s why it is pretty visible. Smoke can actually travel quite a distance.”

Over the weekend, the North River fire produced smoke that was visible in Kaltag, about 70 miles southeast of the fire, and was also seen 100 miles westward: outside of Nome, off the Kougarok Road. According to a smoke model from the University of Alaska–Fairbanks, the wind will start blowing smoke from the blaze to Elim and further west towards Nome tomorrow (Tuesday).

Ipsen says Norton Sound residents should expect to see more smoke from that fire for the foreseeable future, as the AFS will let it burn until it has run its natural course.

“Well, as long as it is not threatening (anything) valuable, like structures, native allotments, (or) archaeological sites, it will be in that monitor status.”

According to Ipsen, the fire covers more than 32,000 acres as it continues to burn through tundra patches with black spruce trees northeast of Koyuk. The AFS designated this significant wildfire as burning in a limited management option area; therefore, it will continue to be monitored as it burns naturally.

The North River fire was first reported on June 10, burning at 400 acres. Ipsen says it was started by lightning.

A map updated by the Alaska Fire Service shows the North River Fire and a few other active blazes around the Norton Sound area (as of 10am on June 17, 2019).

Another active wildfire near Koyuk is almost completely contained and has burned through 80 acres. According to Ipsen, 21 firefighters currently working on the Inglutalik River blaze plan to be done and demobilize tomorrow. 

At this time, neither blaze has threatened human life or property.

Image at top: the North River fire outside Koyuk, Alaska. Photo: BLM’s Alaska Fire Service, June 16, 2019.

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