Alaska Contends with a Busy Wildland Fire Season

Record-breaking temperatures and dried-out vegetation set the stage for major fires in much of Southcentral Alaska this summer,
with 2.5 million acres burned.

If you looked outside your window this summer, you know that Alaska faced an extremely active fire season. July was the hottest month in recorded history in Anchorage and the rest of Southcentral Alaska, with very little rainfall. Throughout much of August, Anchorage’s air quality index ranged from “Moderate” to “Unhealthy,” with the Kenai Peninsula frequently reaching “Hazardous” levels. As of the end of August, 682 fires had burned more than 2.5 million acres across the state.

Thankfully, Alaska is a long way off from the 2004 record of 6.5 million acres burned. But the early start to the 2019 fire season—and the move by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to extend the official fire season by a month, through September—is a reminder to keep wildfire prevention and safety tips in mind as we head into fall. In a state that is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe, scientists say that hot, dry summers will likely become the norm in Alaska.

This fire season, CIRI’s Land and Natural Resources department worked with state and federal fire officials to closely monitor fires on and near CIRI land. Three fires were particular concerning:

  • The Swan Lake Fire, largely located within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and along the Sterling Highway, burned more than 160,000 acres since being sparked by lightening in early June. It is currently the most expensive fire in the country, at an estimated cost of $46 million to fight. While very little CIRI land was at stake, CIRI Land and Natural Resources staff coordinated with the state Incident Management Team about potential risk to a few small CIRI parcels that required special protection.
  • The McKinley Fire, located south of Talkeetna and near Willow, burned more than 3,200 acres and affected some CIRI parcels. The fire grew in mid- August during a weekend wind storm, which nearly doubled its acreage and led to the destruction of more than 50 homes and buildings near Talkeetna. Due to the amount of timber killed by spruce bark beetles in this area, CIRI Land and Natural Resources staff have been in contact with authorities regarding future fire-mitigation plans for CIRI and village property.
  • The Caribou Lake Fire, located 25 miles northwest of Homer, started Aug. 19. A week after initial discovery, smokejumpers, hotshot crews and emergency service personnel were able to contain only 20% of the fire, with more than 900 acres burned. As of Aug. 31, fire crews had achieved 85% containment. Located on State- and CIRI-owned land, this fire affected the most CIRI land, and areas of critical concern continue to be monitored.

The CIRI Land and Natural Resources team continually works to ensure that CIRI land is preserved and protected for current and future generations shareholders. During this particularly active fire season, emphasis was placed on cooperative management of fires that threatened CIRI land.

CIRI would especially like to thank the wildland firefighters, including those from out of state, who battled the fires and provided resources and support to nearby residents. For current information on all fires, visit or