Tag Archives: fire

A Brazilian Campfire

I’ve been told it’s the “additives” that gives the fire a Brazilian flavor.


Alaska Highway Closed


Lower Post, British Columbia; Photo credit: CBC/Danni Carpenter

The Alaska Highway has been closed due to an aggressive fire just south of the Yukon border in British Columbia. The community of Lower Post, BC has been evacuated. The town of Watson Lake is taking in displaced residents and stranded travelers.

The fire, which is believed to have been started by lightening, is approximately 4000 hectares in size. There were 14 firefighters and an air tanker working the fire as of the last update. Heavy equipment is currently being used to protect the community of Lower Post. The fire is not contained, and the highway is expected to be closed for several days. The road is closed at KM 823 near Coal River to KM 968 near the Yukon border.

The Alaska Highway has also been closed at KM 133 near Wonowan, BC and KM 454 near Fort Nelson, as well as between Fort Nelson and the Laird River.

Travelers can still drive to/from the Yukon using the Stewart Cassiar Highway. It’s a route I highly recommend! Absolutely beautiful country, but the services are even more limited than on the Alcan. I once took the Cassiar while driving a ’73 VW Beetle, so don’t be discouraged, although I suggest bringing an extra five gallons of fuel.

We are in a wet, bubble up here in Alaska, so the news that the Alcan is closed due to fire, came as a bit of a surprise. We had an inch of rain at my place yesterday alone, and the high on Saturday was 55 degrees. Our normal high this time of year is in the low 70’s. Currently, August 2018 has seen 3.54″ of rain fall in Fairbanks, which stands at the 10th wettest August on record.

Alaska had 399,000 acres burn this fire season, which is lower than the past three years. The total is 40% lower than the median over the past two decades.


Eight stars of gold on a field of blue


The Alaska state flag

In 1927, when Alaska was still a U.S. Territory, Territorial Governor George Parks persuaded the Alaska American Legion to hold a competition. The Governor thought it would help the statehood movement by having a state flag, so the Legion held a contest, open to all Alaskan children, to design Alaska’s new flag.

142 designs were sent to Juneau from all over the state. A thirteen year old living in Seward, John Ben “Benny” Benson won the contest with a simple, yet elegant design.


Benny Benson holding his design for the new Alaska flag

Benny Benson was born in the fishing village of Chignik. His father was a Swedish fisherman, his mother an Aleut-Russian. Benny’s mother died when he was just three, and the family home burned to the ground shortly afterwards. His father, John Ben Benson Sr, could not take care of his three children alone, so they were divided up. Benny and his brother were put into an orphanage in Unalaska; his sister Elsie was sent to a school in Oregon.

The Jesse Lee Home in Unalaska was home to hundreds of Aleut orphans. It eventually moved from Unalaska in the Aleutian Chain, to the town of Seward on the mainland. It was from here that Benny Benson sent his design for the Alaska flag, as a seventh grader.


The Jesse Lee Home for Children in Unalaska, circa 1901

Benson described his design to the judges this way: “The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaska flower. The North Star is for the future of the state of Alaska, the most northerly in the Union. The dipper is for the Great Bear – symbolizing strength.”

The Territorial Legislature approved the new flag in May of 1927, and Alaska officially flew its new flag for the first time on 9 July 1927. Benny Benson received a watch, with the flag design etched on it, as well as a $1000 educational scholarship, which he eventually used to become a diesel mechanic.

Benson Boulevard in Anchorage, which is a major east-west thoroughfare, is named after Benny.
A Benny Benson Memorial is located at milepost 1.4 of the Seward Highway in Seward.
The airport in Kodiak was renamed the Kodiak Benny Benson State Airport in 2013.
A school in Anchorage on Campbell Airstrip Road has been named the Benny Benson School.

Benny Benson died of a heart attack in 1972. He was 58.

The black & white photos courtesy of The Alaska State Library Archives


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.