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Fires on the upper Kuskokwim dying down after a week of wet weather

lime village area
Burned area near Lime Village

After a solid week of rain, the fires along the upper Kuskokwim River have died down considerably. Fires which just a few weeks ago were threatening cabins, native allotments, and other structures are now almost completely extinguished.

According to Shannon Dunfee, a public information officer for the Northwest Incident Management team, surveillance flights over the fires are showing just a few small pockets of heat remaining. Up until now, many of these fires had been burning for over a month and a half. The change is thanks to cooler, wetter weather, which is expected to continue.

The forecast for the next at least seven days is just continued rain,” Dunfee said. “The duff layers are getting moisture, and then even deeper duff areas where some of the heat remains are getting moisture too. So it's looking really good.”

Duff is the layer of decomposing moss and lichen beneath the live plants and grasses on the surface. Sometimes it can smolder for weeks before reigniting. That makes it a particularly complex fuel to fight.

Only one of the fires along the upper Kuskokwim still has crews working on it. That’s the Door Mountain Fire, a 114,294 acre blaze that was burning near Lime Village, a community of 13 people. Part of the challenge with that fire was that it burned deep into the duff rather than scorching the top layer. Thanks to the rain and an 800 acre burnout around Lime Village, there is now very little risk to structures. The smoke impacting surrounding communities like Aniak has also dissipated.

“Essentially it's not moving at all, and there's no threat to it coming outside the perimeter of the burnout,” Dunfee said.

Now crews are working to remove firefighting equipment near Lime Village, and the size of the crew has decreased. Although the rain has lessened the likelihood of these fires reemerging or other dangerous fires starting in the near future, Dunfee emphasized that local residents can’t let their guard down completely.

“I think there's always some concern just because you can't predict what the weather is going to do with confidence into August,” Dunfee said. “So there’s a tiny bit of concern, but right now the fight is pretty much out of all the fires.”

Alaska Department of Natural Resources officials will continue to monitor the fires for any changes or growth.

Will McCarthy is a temporary news reporter at KYUK. Previously, he worked as a furniture mover, producer, and freelance journalist. Will's written for the New York Times, National Geographic, and Texas Monthly. He holds a master's degree in journalism from UC Berkeley.