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Rainy weather halts Aghaluk Mountain Fire for now

Sleetmute, where wildfires are currently burning less than 15 miles away, is pictured here on August 16, 2019. (Katie Basile/KYUK)
Sleetmute, where wildfires are currently burning less than 15 miles away, is pictured here on August 16, 2019. (Katie Basile/KYUK)

Rain has halted a fire burning near the upper Kuskokwim River villages of Sleetmute and Red Devil. But fire officials warn that it will likely pick up again as skies get sunnier.

For now, after Monday’s rain, the Aghaluk Mountain Fire is only 1% active, according to a detection and mapping aircraft. 

“So that means of that big perimeter of the 95,000-acre fire, 1% of it was putting off smoke,” said Alaska Division of Forestry spokesman Brentwood Reid. “They didn’t have any movement on the fire yesterday. It’s just kind of smoldering and creeping.”

The fire on Tuesday burned about 10 miles southwest of Sleetmute and just over 12 miles from Red Devil. Lightning sparked the fire on May 6. It’s one of more than 50 fires burning in the region. The largest, the East Fork Fire, burns to the west, near the villages of St. Mary’s and Pitkas Point.

Reid cautioned that the Aghaluk Mountain Fire is still active, and fuels for the fire like black spruce are likely to dry up quickly as the rain subsides.

“If it’s a sunny day with wind, those will dry in one hour,” Reid said. “So the second day we don’t have any rain, then we’ll see that fire start to pick up, and all the fires start to pick up.”

Eight smokejumpers and a 22-member hotshot crew headed to the region over the weekend to fight the fire.

Reid said the fires in the upper Kuskokwim area are at a more moderate level, and fire officials are setting up to protect nearby structures, primarily near Sleetmute. He said most of the structures are recreational and no one currently lives in them. He said it’s unlikely that the community will have to evacuate. There are currently 46 firefighters battling the fire. 

“There are going to be firefighters in place if fire comes through there,” Reid said. “It’s very unlikely, with the fuel types, that a crown fire is going to roll right through there.”

As the fire smolders, Reid said, it’s still likely to create smoky skies in the area.

Both Sleetmute and Red Devil qualified for state grant relief after spring flooding damaged the communities in May.

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Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media - Anchorage