Alaskan Wildfires Top 6 Million Acres; $38 Million In Costs

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- More than 6 million acres have burned in Alaska this summer, an area nearly the size of New Hampshire, according to fire officials.

``It's a record year in a lot of categories,'' said Joe Stam, chief of fire and aviation for the state Division of Forestry.

Fire officials cite an unseasonably warm and dry summer for why the old record of 5.1 million acres burned, set in 1957, was passed almost two weeks ago.

The record for the driest summer was also in 1957, when less than an inch of rain fell in the Fairbanks area from June 1 through Aug. 28. This year, 1.81 inches of rain have fallen, according to the National Weather Service.

Alaska started the year with a fire suppression budget of $6.7 million. The total reached $38 million authorized Aug. 18.

Fire officials say fires may not end until the snow flies _ or even next year.

``You'll never be absolutely sure it won't get bad again until there's snow on the ground,'' said Steve Frye, incident commander of a management team that until last week oversaw firefighting efforts near Central.

Even cold weather may not put out fires, which can penetrate up to 2 feet into the duff layer because of the dry conditions, Frye said. Snow cover could keep fires smoldering over winter if the conditions are right.

``That heat would have to receive enough oxygen to sustain it. It would have to be in a place in the spring when the snow melted it wasn't susceptible to that moisture because it would put it out,'' Frye said. ``A lot of things would have to come together.''

Winds kicked up to 25 mph in some places around Central Sunday night, but instead of spreading flames, the gusts blew the fire back into an already blackened area, said Bill Watt, fire information officer.

The 100,000-acre Evansville Fire near Bettles also flared to life, sending large water-scooping aircraft to the remote village to dump water Monday.