According to a U.S. Geological Survey on July 25 the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center handled 290 fires. Ever since records of Alaska’s wildfire seasons began in 1950 this might be the third-largest one with over 4.75 million acres burned representing more than the size of the state of New Jersey (4.4492 acres) and more than double the size of Yellowstone National Park.
This year nearly 3.500 smoke-jumpers, helicopter teams and hotshot crews from both across the country and Canada traveled to Alaska. Overall they used 830 miles of hose to fight Alaska’s wildfire season.
A spokesperson for the Alaska Division of Forestry, Tim Mowry, said that people do not understand how big Alaska is. There can be 300,000-acre fires without anybody knowing about it.
Last week the pace of the burn had moderated, but experts believe that the wildfires are a proof of the climatic change transformation which remakes the states affecting its coasts, forests, the frozen ground beneath and its glaciers. Alaska’s wildfire season of 2015 may be the worst one so far.
The relationship between climate change and fire is not direct, but experts have found a connection between large fire years and warm temperatures in June. However the fire is not automatically started by dry and hot spring conditions. In 35 percent of the cases the fires in Alaska are started by lightning and it account for 90 percent of the burned regions.
The forests of Alaska represent 17 percent of the entire US forest. Even though they have always been affected by fire right now they might enter a combustive period. The blazes are so extensive and dangerous that they could transform an entire ecosystem.
Ecologist Ted Schuur from Northern Arizona University remarked:
The more severe the fire, the deeper that it burns through the organic layer, the higher the chance it will go through this complete conversion. What happens in the summer of 2015 has the potential to change the whole trajectory of (the burned area) for the next 100 years or more.”
The fires can be seen on the UAFSMOKE page which was the result of a collaboration between the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center and the USFS Missoula Fire Sciences Lab with the Global System Division, Brazil’s Center for Weather Forecasting and Climate Studies (NOAA).
Wildfires can also affect wildfire habitat by destroying lichens found in black spruce forests. These slow-growing plants represent an essential food source for caribou during winter time.
Image Source: rtcc.org