Tag Archives: fire

90 Degrees


The South Fork Salcha Fire as seen from Quartz Lake

Fairbanks hit 90 degrees on Friday, which broke the record of 87 set in 1957. It was also the second earliest date, Fairbanks has seen the temperature reach 90. That record is 28 May, which was set in 1947. 90 degrees, is just too damn hot for Alaska, and those temps can stay in Texas. Luckily, temps are dropping down to a more Alaskan-like 75 for Saturday.

Lightning caused the South Fork Salcha fire, which has closed the Richardson Highway tonight near Birch Lake. The lightning strike occurred Thursday morning, and by Friday evening, the fire had reached 3600 acres. I noticed the scent of burning black spruce Friday morning, as I drove to the jobsite.

Summer has reached the Interior.


Battle of Dutch Harbor

3-4 June 1942:

LA Examiner Dutch Harbor

On this date, 75 years ago, the Japanese launched two aircraft carrier raids on the remote Alaskan community of Dutch Harbor.
The Japanese had three reasons for attacking the Aleutian Chain*:
The first is that the Aleutians were thought to be a possible route for the U.S. to launch an attack on the main islands of Japan. As General Billy Mitchell said to Congress in 1935: ” “I believe that in the future, whoever holds Alaska will hold the world. I think it is the most important strategic place in the world.”
The second is that the Japanese wanted to have a north-south patrol line with Kiska, Alaska as its northern anchor. This was especially important after the Doolittle raid on Tokyo in April of 1942.
And thirdly, and probably most vital, the attacks on the Aleutian Islands was suppose to draw units and ships away from the looming Battle near Midway.

Fort Mears, Dutch Harbor
Fort Mears at Dutch Harbor

Because of the U.S. Navy code breakers, the Americans knew about both Midway and the attack on Dutch Harbor on the 21 May. With limited resources and unpredictable weather, the Americans were as prepared as they could be.
At 0258 hours June 3, 1942, the Japanese launched 12 Zero fighters, 10 Kate high level bombers, and 12 Val dive bombers towards Dutch Harbor. At 0407 the first planes appeared over the harbor. Anti-aircraft flak was heavy as the planes came in low enough for men on the ground to clearly see the pilots faces. 17 men of the 37th Infantry and 8 from the 151st Engineers died when a bomb exploded on a barracks at Fort Mears. Half of the Japanese planes did not reach their target. Some got lost in the fog, returning to their carriers, and some simply crashed into the rough seas.

The barracks ship Northwestern\>
The beached barracks ship Northwestern burning.

The Japanese once again launched attacks on June 4th. More targets were hit, but there were fewer casualties. Oil storage tanks were hit, as well as more barracks, a wing of the hospital and two merchant ships in port. The Northwestern was also hit. The transport ship had been grounded and used as a barracks. After the battle, the hull was saved, and the ship’s power plant continued to bring steam and electricity to the shore installations.

At this time, an amphibious attack on the island of Adak was launched, which was 480 miles to the west of Dutch Harbor. The Japanese would find that Adak was not occupied by any U.S. force.

78 American soldiers died in the battle. 14 U.S. planes were damaged. Ten Japanese died in the attack, and five were captured. Eight aircraft were destroyed.

* From “The Battle of the Komandorski Islands”, by John Lorelli


Restricted

Fire tower

A fire tower in Florida, that was closed off to climbing, although it wasn’t that difficult to make it to the top anyway. With Florida being as flat as it is, I was surprised the forest service thought they needed one this tall.


Walk-In Freezer

Fifteen Below

The hardest part about leaving Alaska’s Interior in the winter, is returning to the Interior in the winter. Especially, when you rely on a wood stove for your heat source.

It was in the vicinity of -22F outside when I unlocked the cabin door. My ride from the airport was in a car with a thermometer that stops at -22, and my outdoor thermometer finally gave up the ghost around September.
The thermometer inside the cabin clearly read -15F.

Stoke that fire

The plan:
Get a fire going in the wood stove.
Start the truck, and let that warm up.
Add firewood and plug in the stack robber.
Drive to the store to pick up enough groceries to get me through a day or two.
Return to a slightly warmer cabin, add firewood, turn on the heated mattress pad, then walk over to the neighbor’s for dinner.

Stack robber

What actually happened:
I left Alaska in such a hurry that I forgot to have kindling ready.
First step was to put on a hat and warmer gloves. It was 6pm.
Second step was to split some spruce for kindling.
Once the fire was going, I went out to start the truck, but my neighbor did not plug it in like I requested. For the first time, my Chevy did not start.
Plugged in truck.
Returned to cabin to add firewood and plug in stack robber.
Walked over to the neighbor, and casually mentioned my truck did not start.
Borrowed neighbor’s warm car to drive to town.
Returned with groceries to a cabin that had warmed to -5F. Progress at 8pm.
Added firewood.
Walked over to neighbor’s for a strong cocktail, and dinner.
Returned to my cabin at 10pm to add firewood and crank up heated mattress pad to a level I’ve never experienced before. The cabin was now at +20F.
Went back to neighbor’s for another cocktail.
Returned to my cabin at midnight. The air temperature was +55F inside the cabin. Tolerable. I filled the wood stove, and went to bed exhausted. I had been up for 23 hours. Love travel days.
Was awake by 7am. The cabin was now 65 degrees. The water jug on the counter was starting to thaw; those on the floor were still solid blocks of ice.
It total, in took 36 hours for the cabin to truly heat up, reaching all nooks and crannies, and for walls, furniture and a fully stocked wood pile to stop radiating cold.
Chevy starts up immediately after being plugged in overnight.


Campfire vs Bonfire

Mn Campfire
Minnesota campfire

Maybe Alaskans over do it, but campfires up there seem so much larger than in the Lower 48. (Knoxville excluded) Don’t you have pallets down here?
Since I’m on the subject: What’s up with not owning an axe? When showing two near-teens how to properly build/light a fire, I was splitting kindling in a garage with a brick chisel and a drilling hammer! The travesty! Life lessons lose some credibility when one does not have the proper tools, and you are forced to repeat the phrase, “Now, don’t you do it this way.”
In other news, I know what my cousin is getting for X-mas.


Wildfires below freezing

Moose Creek Fire
Photo credit: Bob Hallinen/ADN

A wildfire is growing between the towns of Palmer and Sutton here in Alaska. At first report, it was at 10 acres, but the dry autumn and currently high winds have seen it expend to over 200 acres in less than 24 hours. Several fire hoses and water tankers, on site to fight the fire, froze over night.

Another wildfire, estimated at 350 acres in size, is burning in the Northwest part of the state near the community of Noorvik.


Campfire

When I first dropped down into Florida, I camped out in the National Forest west of Tallahassee. I rewired a circuit breaker for the camp host before I had even paid for my site. The host came walking up to my tent that evening with some fat wood for my troubles. I’ve been carrying that resin-soaked kindling around ever since.

In Key Largo, I had a gentleman give me some firewood. The stuff was beautiful! I believe he said it was “live oak”, but I could be mistaken. “You use this stuff in campfires?” I asked. It should be savored in wood stoves in minus forty degree weather, not wasted in fire rings in Florida in the summer. Still, I’ve carried six pieces of that around in my small car too.

As the trip winds down, I’ve grown tired of the wood chips, although the wood scent is nice. In “Highlands” I finally broke down and had two consecutive nights with a campfire. That wood: twisted like northern elm, but grained and heavy like oak, seemed to burn forever. The fat wood I think could have damn near started itself. Wonderful stuff all around.

In the end, I left two pieces of the live oak with some campers who were staying a bit longer. It was beautiful stuff, but I wasn’t going to haul it back to Fairbanks just to feel those BTU’s at -40. Not to say, I did not give it some thought.