Unseasonable heat in Alaska combined with winds and low humidity have triggered major wildfire outbreaks in the Northern state. According to a status report from the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, as of Wednesday, June 24, there were 278 active wildland fires state-wide. The Healy Lake Fires grew to 10,000 acres earlier this month, doubling in less than 24 hours. The Stetson Creek Fire started when lightning struck on the Kenai Peninsula. The fire had consumed about 400 acres last week.
This May was the hottest May on record in Alaska, according to data that goes back 91 years. The immediate cause of the high temperatures can be attributed to the development of an El Niño event in the eastern Pacific, which can trigger extreme climate events around the world. On a longer timescale, Alaska has warmed twice as fast as the national average over the last 50 years, the US Environmental Protection Agency found.
“The number of large wildfires (larger than 1,000 acres) suddenly increased in the 1990s, and the 2000s saw nearly twice as many large wildfires as the 1950s and 60s,” according to Climate Central. This increase has been concurrent to rising temperatures. The U.S. National Climate Assessment reports that the area impacted by wildfires in Alaska will double by 2050, and triple by 2100 if emissions continue at present rates and warming continues.
The heat means trouble for Alaska’s glaciers, too. A new study from researchers at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks found that from 1994 to 2013, Alaskan glaciers have lost 75 gigatons (or 75 billion metric tons) of ice per year. That’s equivalent to half the total ice loss of Antarctica.
To report a wildfire in Alaska call 1-800-237-3633
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