Average annual number of large wildfires in Alaska, from the 1950s into the 2010s. Alaska wildfires have increased dramatically since 1990. Graphic: Todd Sanford / Climate Central

By Chris Mooney
26 June 2015

(Washington Post) – Following on a record hot May in which much snow cover melted off early, Alaska saw no less than 152 fires erupt last weekend. The numbers have only grown further since then, and stood at 317 active fires Friday, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, with over 280,000 additional acres burned just since Thursday.

“Given the high number of fires and the personnel assigned to those fires, the state’s firefighting resources are becoming very limited, forcing fire managers to prioritize resources,” noted the state’s Department of Natural Resources Tuesday. The preparedness level at the moment for the state is 5, meaning that “resistance to control is high to extreme and resistance to extinguishment is high.

This stunning tweet from the Alaska Division of Forestry sort of says it all:

This map from the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center puts Alaska's ~300 wildfires in perspective, 23 June 2015. Graphic: Alaska Division of Forestry

All of which is troubling for multiple reasons: (1) Recent research suggests that more Alaskan wildfires, and more large Alaskan fires in particular, are a trend; (2) In some cases, wildfires in Alaska don’t just consume trees, grasses or tundra. They can burn away soils as well and threaten permafrost, frozen soil beneath the ground, and so potentially help to trigger additional release of carbon to the atmosphere.

“One major concern about wildfires becoming more frequent in permafrost areas is the potential to put the vast amounts of carbon stored there at increased risk of being emitted and further amplify warming,” said Todd Sanford, a climate scientist at Climate Central and lead author of the group’s newly released report on Alaskan wildfires, by e-mail. [more]

Over 300 wildfires are burning in Alaska right now. That’s an even bigger problem than it sounds



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