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Public Safety

Officials say they've finished work on massive tundra fire near Yukon River that threatened St. Mary

A distant view of the UAS firing operation. (AK IMT/Jacob Welsh)
A distant view of the UAS firing operation. (AK IMT/Jacob Welsh)

Officials say they’ve largely finished their work to protect three Yukon River villages from a massive tundra fire that burned to within 3.5 miles of St. Marys.

In an update posted online, officials said crews dug fire breaks and installed water lines to protect St. Mary’s, Mountain Village and Pitkas Point. They say all of more than 100 people who evacuated to Bethel have returned home, and most firefighters are headed home or to work on other fires. 
Jacob Welsh, a spokesperson for the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, said there’s currently little risk that the fire could reach the village. But he said shifting winds could periodically bring heavy smoke back into the area. The large number of fires burning across Alaska could also send smoke around the state.

“Alaska has received a lot of lightning in other areas as well so depending on wind direction there could be smoke impact in a lot of areas of Alaska,” he said.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation said in an email it is sending 20 air purifiers to St. Mary’s that will be sent to households that doctors determined were susceptible to lingering smoke. 
YKHC said in an email that air quality has improved compared to earlier in the week, although smoke remains a concern for individuals with certain health conditions.
The fire, known as the East Fork Fire, has burned more than 150,000 acres, the largest tundra fire in the area in at least 60 years. As of Saturday, more than a million acres of Alaska had burned this season. That’s the earliest date on record that the state has surpassed a million acres burned, according to the Alaska Fire Service. 
As of Sunday, there were about 100 active wildfires in the state. Firefighters were working to contain about a dozen of them.
This story was reported in collaboration with KYUK.
Copyright 2022 Alaska Public Media. To see more, visit Alaska Public Media.

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