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Smoky conditions persist on the lower Yukon River as some evacuees return home

Smoke from the East Fork Fire fills the air over the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta on June 11, 2022 in Southwest Alaska.
Katie Basile
for KYUK
Smoke from the East Fork Fire fills the air over the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta on June 11, 2022 in Southwest Alaska.

Some evacuees from the East Fork tundra fire burning near St. Mary’s on the Yukon River started to return home on June 16. The rate of the fire’s spread has slowed over the past few days and is less of a direct danger to communities. But a smoke advisory remains in effect for the area through at least June 18. Fire officials are warning that fire activity could again worsen if weather patterns change after the weekend.

The East Fork Fire is burning about 3.5 miles away from the community of St. Mary’s, 5 miles from Pitkas Point, 24 miles away from Mountain Village, and 7 miles from Pilot Station.

About 150 people from these villages voluntarily evacuated last week. These were mainly vulnerable residents, including Elders, young children, and people with health conditions. Now about half of them are flying home. And two of the villages they’re returning to, St. Mary’s and Pitkas Point, remain under a warning urging residents to have essential belongings packed in case of an evacuation.

According to Mark Smith, an air quality meteorologist with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the fire is creating smoky conditions across the region Smith has issued a smoke advisory for Southwest Alaska until at least June 18. Smith said that the smoke is most dangerous for those closest to the fire.

“The person that is right within the fire is going to have greater impact to health than a person that's, say, in Juneau. We're getting hazy conditions from the smoke from your fires there in the Southwest,” Smith said.

Smith said that potential rain and cool temperatures over the weekend could help extinguish parts of the fire, but sunny weather afterwards could restart it. He said that we could know a little more about the fire and the smoke’s potential trajectory after the weekend’s rain clears.

Olivia was a News Reporter for KYUK from 2020-2022.
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