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Donlin Gold Suspends Operations As Smith Creek Fire Grows

Credit Dean Swope / KYUK

Temperatures have cooled in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta thanks to some rain, but the lightning that came with those storms has ignited 10 more fires in Southwest Alaska; others have grown. Those wildfires forced Donlin Gold to evacuate the rest of its employees from its mine site. 

The Smith Creek Fire that is burning a mile from the Donlin Gold mine site has more than doubled in size since Tuesday. It’s now more than 53,000 acres and is threatening 80 buildings at the mine site.

Donlin Gold had already evacuated most of its 30 employees more than a week ago as a precaution, but some stayed behind to assist. With the bigger fire closing in, the company relocated the rest of its workers. Donlin had been evaluating the site for its dam safety certification. Donlin plans to build seven dams, and needs the certification before mining. Company spokesperson Kristina Woolston says that it’s too soon to say if the wildfires will push back Donlin’s timeline for certification, which usually takes two years to complete.

Wildfires have scorched more than 2 million acres in Alaska this season. Alaska Climatologist Rick Thoman says that this fire season could be one of the biggest since 2004, barring a significant change in the weather.