First Report: The Wildfires Of '96

Across North America, hundreds of thousands of acres of wildland have burned this summer. Among the biggest wildfires was one that destroyed hundreds of homes in Alaska.


Hundreds of firefighters were sent from the lower 48 states to help their Alaska colleagues battle a wildfire that tripled in size in a matter of hours only 60 miles north of Anchorage. The fire was whipped by 40-mph winds and threatened the largest inhabited area ever to incur a major wildland...


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Hundreds of firefighters were sent from the lower 48 states to help their Alaska colleagues battle a wildfire that tripled in size in a matter of hours only 60 miles north of Anchorage. The fire was whipped by 40-mph winds and threatened the largest inhabited area ever to incur a major wildland blaze. At least 344 structures were destroyed and 37,000 acres blackened. At times, flames were 600 feet high, embers were thrown a mile ahead of the blaze and smoke rose 18,000 feet high. The fire at one time was 18 miles long and 15 miles wide.

9_96_firstreport1.jpg
Photo by Gary McGeorge
At one point, the Alaska fire burned an area 18 miles long and 15 miles wide.


9_96_firstreport2.jpg
Photo by Norm McDonald
Winds carried embers from the 100-foot-high flames more than one mile ahead of the inferno, igniting new fires.

Thousands Of Acres Ablaze

Across the country, during the second week in August, 16 large fires were burning 235,348 acres. The largest wildfire was burning in central Utah and scorched 112,000 acres. At press time, 204 crews, 845 overhead personnel, 913 equipment operators and support personnel were assigned to fires in the West. They were supported by 365 engines, 83 helicopters and 18 air tankers.

From Jan. 1 to Aug. 6, 1996 there were 78,685 fires that burned 3,536,815 acres. Compared to the same period during 1995, there were 56,310 fires that burned 1,287,135 acres. The average over the last five years for the same period is 53,523 fires that burned 1,602,060 acres. For the same period, Canada in 1996 suffered 4,933 fires, compared to 6,478 in 1995. Acres burned in 1996 were 3,428,382, compared to 14,562,835 in 1995.

Harvey Eisner