Daily Archives: 24 June 2015

Visions of 2004

6-28-04_smoke
South Fairbanks on June 28, 2004. Air quality particulate level at 900 micrograms per cubic meter.

I’m not quite ready to jump on the 2004 Bandwagon, but people in town are cranky with all the smoke, and comparisons with the summer of 2004, when over 6.5 million acres burned, are rampant.

2004 Fire Season Facts:
*There were 701 total fires, with 426 being human caused and 275 lightning caused.
*6,590,140 acres burned (more than 8 times the 10 year acreage average).
*There were 5 days in the summer of 2004 that saw over 200,000 acres burn.
*The Boundary Fire, near Fairbanks consumed 537,627 acres.
*There were 2711 fire fighting personnel assigned throughout Alaska at the highest. 1212 Alaskans & 1499 from the Lower 48. 46 states sent fire fighting resources to Alaska. There were no fatalities or serious injury to any firefighter during the summer of 2004.

I hiked the Chilkoot Trail at the end of June 2004 and stayed in Skagway through July 4th. During the time I was away from Fairbanks, the coals had really hit the fan. On the trail, hikers would occasionally catch a scent of smoke, but we had no idea how much was burning in Alaska and the Yukon. We did notice that there were no mosquitos due to the extremely dry conditions, which is almost unheard of.
My Dad was scheduled to visit soon after the ‘Koot hike, and I tried to get him to come at another time, but he came up anyway. We sat on my deck one evening, and watched a dry-thunderstorm come over the hills. The lightning was fierce, and we saw smoke rising on the horizon within hours, and within a few more, the planes were flying overhead dumping loads of retardant. We decided to drive up to the top of Murphy Dome to get a lay of the land, and from that vantage point, it looked like Fairbanks was surrounded by wildfire. The entire horizon was burning.

There was one night after my Dad left, when the entire ridge was socked in by smoke. It was so thick, that visibility was down to mere feet. I awoke to the crashing of thunder rolling over the hills. There wasn’t a drop of rain. Just thick smoke that would suddenly glow in an eerie, greenish-brown light, followed immediately by a crash of thunder. The most surreal night I’ve ever spent in Alaska. If a fire had started on the ridge that night, I would have heard the crackling of the flames before I would have been able to see any flames.

That was some thick shit.

Stats & photos courtesy of Alaska DEC – Division of Air Quality