Please forward comments and recommendations for the Alaska Interagency Firefighter Orientation to: Alaska Fire Service - Fire Operations Duty Office PO Box 35005, Fort Wainwright, Alaska 99703 (907) 356-5660; FAX (907) 356-5646; E-mail http://fire.ak.blm.gov
Upon arriving at your assignment it is important that you also receive a specific local briefing that covers the following for the area/zone/incident: •Chain of Command •Previous and expected fire behavior •Fire weather forecasts and how updated information is relayed •Local factors that influence fire behavior. •Local fuel types/hazards/considerations •Communication links/systems/problems
BLM, Alaska Fire Service; the state of Alaska Division of Forestry; and the US Forest Service are the three primary agencies in Alaska with wildland fire suppression responsibility. AFS is responsible for fire protection of all Department of Interior agencies in Alaska. This includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM). AFS also has responsibility for lands classified under ANCSA (Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act) and certain Military lands.
AFS protection areas are divided into four zones. Galena Zone out west with its zone headquarters in Galena. Galena has no other field stations. Tanana Zone has one field station in Tanana. Upper Yukon Zone has one field station in Fort Yukon, and capability to open additional facilities at Eagle. Military Zone has responsibility for statewide Military lands. Tanana, Upper Yukon, and Military Zones, are headquartered in Fairbanks and share a combined dispatch. The State of Alaska, Division of Forestry; provides wildland fire protection and suppression on lands in the southern half of the state. Through cooperative agreements with Alaska Fire Service, the state area of responsibility is for all lands in the southern third of the state principally surrounding urban areas and the road network. The Alaska, Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry (DOF) is responsible for providing fire protection and suppression on all state, city, borough, and privately owned lands in Alaska. The State has a Northern and Southern Fire Management Zone. The Northern Zone covers the Fairbanks Bowl down the Alaska highway to the Canadian Border, with Area Offices in Fairbanks, Delta, and Tok. The Southern Zone covers lands south and west of the Alaska Range, with Area Offices in McGrath, Soldotna, Copper Center, Big Lake, and Haines. Through a cooperative agreement between AFS and DOF, both agencies provide fire protection and suppression on each others holdings that lie within their protection boundary. This is done on a reimbursable basis. The US Forest Service provides wildland fire protection and suppression to lands located in Southeast Alaska. (Known as the “panhandle”.) This includes the Chugach and Tongass National Forests and various Department of Interior owned lands. Through a cooperative agreement with the Division of Forestry, state, city, borough, and privately owned lands are protected by USFS.
Cooperative agreements between the State of Alaska, AFS, and the USFS allows for sharing of resources and suppression responsibilities to minimize costs. AFS burns 160 fires on about 650,000 acres per year. DNR burns 485 fires on about 215,000 acres per year. USFS burns nearly 40 fires on almost 200 acres per year.
The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center is located at Fort Wainwright and serves as Alaska’s “Geographic Coordination Center” (GACC).
Fire Management Plans In Alaska, fires are classified either as wildland fires which are managed under the Alaska Interagency Consolidated Fire Management Plan, or as prescribed fires managed under agency policies and procedures. Within the Alaska Interagency Consolidated Fire Management Plan, four fire protection options exist. Virtually all lands in Alaska are located within one of the four options. CRITICAL- Areas where fire presents a threat to human safety or physical development. Fires receive immediate, aggressive response and have unquestioned priority over other fires. FULL- Objective is to protect cultural or historical sites or high resource values. Fires receive aggressive and sustained response. MODIFIED- Fires in these areas receive aggressive I.A. up to an evaluation date (usually July 10, depending on state wide fire situation). Modified lands provide a buffer between Full and Limited areas. Fires that escape I.A. require an Wildfire Fire Situation Analysis (WFSA) and land Manager approval for continued action; weighing acres burned against the cost of suppression. LIMITED- Areas where natural fires are not suppressed for economic reasons.. Fires are monitored and may be contained to prevent escape or damage to native allotments. During extreme conditions managers may agree to take suppression action on all fires. Areas not covered make up approximately 50 million acres, most of which is above the Brooks Range. The Venetie and Tetlin Reservations as well as some Military lands are also “unplanned”.
TYPICAL OPERATIONS Outline the progressive events that occur during a lightning bust. This serves to further define the organization and clarify AFS/DOF/USFS roles in fire suppression. AFS installs and maintains approximately 61 Remote Automated Weather Stations (RAWS) in Alaska. The National Weather Service provides daily weather briefings in Fairbanks and Anchorage. During high fire occurrence, a Fire Behavior Analyst may be assigned to the coordination center.
The daily tactical meeting follows, where fire managers establish staffing levels and priorities on a statewide level.
Forces are then pre-positioned to high risk areas based on weather predictions and drought indices and values at risk.
Lightning Detection System displays lightning activity. Detection specialists fly lightning areas with high probability of ignition and size-up and report fires to local dispatch centers.
Initial attack of fires is primarily by smokejumpers, helitack, and engines. Along some road-side area local paid and volunteer fire departments may also respond.
When a fire escapes initial attack, it is evaluated and an WFSA is completed. A suppression strategy is selected. The suppression strategy may be to simply place the fire in monitor status. Some of the alternative suppression strategies used in Alaska are to “steer” a portion of a fire, while only monitoring the rest of the fire. If the fire is to be staffed, a Type I or Type II team may be called out - or the fire may be staffed with a Type III organization. When in-state suppression resources are committed, lower 48 resources may be requested.
ALASKA GEOGRAPHY AND WEATHER Many who have not experienced Alaska, underestimate its size.
Alaska’s size and remoteness is always a consideration when weighing fire suppression and fire support options.
Major Urban Areas – Anchorage, Matanuska-Susitna Valley, Kenai, Fairbanks, Fort Yukon, McGrath, Galena, Nome, Bethel. Interior of Alaska – is the large mostly flat area bordered by the Brooks Range to the north and the Alaska Range to the south and southeast. The significance of the Alaska Range is that it blocks moisture from the south to the interior. Within the interior are the “flats”; Yukon, Minto, Yukon-Kuskokwim, Innoko. Peninsulas - Seward, Kenai, Alaska (Aleutian). Major rivers – Yukon, Kuskokwim, Tanana, Koyukuk, and the Susitna. All of the rivers in Alaska are cold. Numerous summertime fatalities occur as a result of cold-water drowning. Coastal Alaska – The southeast historically has little or no fire activity. The Anchorage/Mat-Su area, Kodiak Island and the Kenai Peninsula have large stands of bug-killed spruce* compounded by significant urban/interface problems. Western coasts can host large tundra fires. All along the coast, weather plays a major role in fire behavior.
Fire occurrence above 3500’ elevation is rare in Alaska, with nearly all large fires burning at 1000’ or less elevation. Topography is almost always flat to gently rolling in the fire prone areas, slope generally less than 40%, some hilly area include White Mountains, Ray Mountains, Kuskokwim Mountains, Forty Mile Hills, and the Nulato Hills. Most of these have some local effect on weather.
Glaciers can cause strong down-sloping winds.
Although green, most of Alaska’s interior is an Arctic Desert, normally receiving less than 12 inches of precipitation a year. Summer precipitation on average between June and August is between 3 and 6 inches. With widespread expanses of permafrost most of this precipitation is not absorbed in to the soil.
Long daylight hours, 20-24 hours, provides more drying and heating and create flatter temperature and relative humidity curves. As a result, the burning period can be 0600 to about 2200 depending on how far north you are. As a result of these long days there is very little relative humidity and temperature recovery.
Typical summertime temperatures are between 70 and 80F, with an occasional 90. 30% to 60% relative humidity is typical; occasionally 20% -30%.
Thunderstorms occur anytime from mid-May to mid-August. The lightning season is most active in June and July. • In the interior, more than 80% of all fire are caused by lightning. •Over most roadside areas about 70% of fire are human caused.
Typical Weather Patterns: Cool, wet weather results from a low pressure system from the west or southwest. With a southwest flow, moisture to the eastern interior is sometimes blocked by the Alaska Range. A westerly flow, will generally bring moisture and cooler temperatures to the interior. Hot dry winds from the east are caused by high pressure over eastern Alaska or western Canada. Along the Alaska Range southerly winds create a Chinook effect causing cool, dry air to gust through passes and create 30 to 50 mph winds in Delta and other locations. Thunderstorms and warm unstable conditions typically result from high pressure over northern Alaska and a low pressure in the Gulf of Alaska. MORE WEATHER INFORMATION AVAILABLE IN THE ALASKA FIELD HANDBOOK General Concerns: Alaska used to have six time-zones. Now we only have two. (Alaska and Hawaii/Aleutian.) Recognize that actual times when civil twilight and the end of the of the burning period occur, will vary as much as four or five hours as you move east or west. As you move closer to the poles, lines of declination become closer together. When talking to aircraft, use magnetic bearing.
Because of the long periods of day-light and flat terrain with no horizon, it is easy to become disoriented. It is important to carry a compass and to know how to use one. Disorientation is often compounded by smoke from the fire and the density of the tree canopy making it virtually impossible to see any discernable landmark. Add to this the difficulty of walking and Alaska’s potential for rapidly changing fire behavior and realize the importance of being aware of your surroundings and maintaining LCES. (Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, and Safety Areas).
Alaska Line Construction: Before we get in to fire behavior and fuel types, here are some common tactics. Sawline - removal of brush and spruce so blackline can be completed
Blackline - control at the fire edge (not necessarily a handline)
Beat - Direct Attack using spruce boughs or burlap bags. Use a sweeping motion, careful not to spread fire into unburned fuel.
Burn and beat - Indirect attack, burning out fuels in advance of the fire and beating it out to create a black-line.
Wetline - very effective in most Alaska conditions.
Handline - Create a fuel break by chopping blocks out of the tundra. This process is difficult and slow. When constructed, usually for only short distances and in critical locations.
Natural barriers in many parts of Alaska are plentiful. They include sloughs, ponds, bogs, meadows, and hardwood stands. How well some of these hold will depend on the conditions.
Dozerline - generally effective but delivery is costly and logistically difficult in most locations.
Due to the delicate nature of permafrost, the environmental impacts from dozer use can be severe.
Land Managers may require parameters or standards on dozers, line construction, rehab, camp locations, bear management. (It is important to realize this as you work for different landowners.) “Light Hand On The Land” tactics should always be considered.
Aerial Firing Group: An Aerial Firing Group is a tactical resource that includes one Plastic Sphere Dispenser (PSD) module and one or more Western Heli-craft Helitorch Modules with personnel and aircraft.
The Aerial Firing Group Supervisor directs the firing operation from the front seat of the PSD equipped ship.
When a fires intensity does not warrant the use of ground personnel, the use of Aerial Firing is sometimes the only cost-effective suppression tactic.
Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System (CFFDRS) The Fire Weather Index (FWI) uses weather data to account for fuel moisture of surface fuels and certain duff layers combined with wind, to indicate levels of potential and probable fire intensity and spread.
Fine Fuel Moisture Code (FFMC) represents the moisture content of litter and fine cured fuels. FFMC expresses ease of ignition and fuel flammability. At an FFMC of about 90 boreal fuels begin to burn well. FFMC has a time lag of about 2/3 of a day. The FFMC combined with wind will deliver the Initial Spread Index (ISI). The Duff Moisture Code (DMC) represents the moisture content of loosely compacted duff. (2-4 inches deep) DMC has a 12 day time lag. DMC determines resistance to control The Drought Code (DC) represents the deep duff layer. (4-8 inches deep) DC It is an indicator of seasonal drought. DC determines resistance to extinguishment (difficulty of mop-up.) DC has a 52 day time lag.
The DMC and the DC make up the Build Up Index (BUI) The BUI and the ISI combine for the Fire Weather Index (FWI). By using a hauling chart for the appropriate fuel type, an intensity class can be determined. The National Weather Service will provide estimated input values in the morning; and actual values (for 97 stations) in the afternoon. Remember that FWI’s show the condition at a specific weather station, and do not take fuel type or topography in to account. There is more information on CFFDRS in your Handy Dandy.
Fire Behavior and tactics applied to Fuel Types Black Spruce is widespread in the interior, located on broad valley bottoms, flat to gently rolling land. Black Spruce may occur in continuous stands or mixed with hardwoods.
Black spruce is often only 8-15’ tall. Maximum heights in mature stands seldom exceed 30’. A 20’ black spruce with a D.B.H. of only 2-3”, may be 75-150 years old.
Black Spruce characteristically has good ladder fuel arrangement with live and dead limbs reaching to the ground. These are often intertwined with the ground fuels composed of layers of moss, lichens, and shrubs.
The tops are clustered with cones that cause spotting problems when ignited and carried by winds ahead of the fire. Black spruce is often underlain with permafrost. There is very little dead and down woody fuels. Black spruce needles almost always have 80-85% live fuel moisture even during wet summers.
Stands may be scattered and open...
...to dog-hair thick making access and orientation difficult.
Fire is carried by surface fuels that have tremendous surface area to volume ratio. Surface fuels respond immediately to changes in the RH and are classed as 20 min. time lag fuels.
These live green fuels react like dead ones, especially the caribou moss. Pick up and feel these mosses in the field to see how changes in the RH affect fine fuels.
General responses to RH in black spruce are as follows: At 60% RH fire will lay quiet and smolder. •Generally, not a suppression problem. •Fire can be controlled by cold-trailing the fires edge
At 50% RH fire burns slowly but consistently. •Rate of Spread – 0 to 3 chains/hour •Flame Lengths – 0 to 1 feet •Projected Area Growth in the first hour – 0 to 1 acre •Direct attack of the flanks and head is effective. •Hand-line should hold. Maintain patrol.
At 40% RH fire burns hot with occasional torching. •Rate of Spread – 3 to 20 chains/hour •Flame Lengths – 1 to 2 feet •Projected Area Growth in the first hour – 1 to 18 acres •Likely to produce torching and spotting ahead of the front. •With a wind of 10 mph expect a slow moving crown fire. With the surface fuels burning in advance of the crowns.
•Fires may be too intense for direct attack at the head if the canopy is closed. •If the canopy is open, direct attack on surface fire may be possible after ladder fuels are consumed and the fire drops back to the ground.
•Don’t rely on black line to hold. Increase patrol. •Retardant and hoselays are generally effective. •These fires are potentially dangerous to personnel and equipment.
At 30% RH intense fire with torching behind the front and spotting •Rate of Spread – 20 - 60 chains/hour •Flame Lengths – 2 - 4 feet •Projected Area Growth in the first hour – 18 to 72 acres •Expect torching, crowning, spotting.
•Direct attack on flanks may still be effective, especially if assisted with water or retardant. Increase patrol and consider aerial surveillance of line. •With a wind of 10 mph expect a full blown crown fire with spotting. •These fires are definitely dangerous to personnel and equipment. Direct attack efforts at the head will be ineffective. •Indirect attack is advised at this point.
At 20% RH very intense, running, crowning, spotting. •Rate of Spread – greater than 60 chains/hour •Flame Lengths – greater than 4 feet •Projected Area Growth in the first hour – greater than 72 acres •Possible running crown fire, long distance spotting, major fire runs, control efforts at the head are ineffective. •These fires are definitely dangerous to personnel and equipment.
Use fuel model #9 (hardwood litter) X 1.21 to predict ROS Use fuel model #5 (2’ brush) to predict flame length or intensity.
Black Spruce is the problem fuel in Alaska. Fire behavior in Black Spruce is frequently underestimated. A cool, rainy day or high RH will make the fire lay quiet. If this is followed by clear, warm, breezy weather with lower relative humidity the fire will be making runs by afternoon.
Mop-up in Black Spruce If the Drought Code (DC) is greater than 150 - dry-mopping will be difficult If the Drought Code (DC) is greater than 350 - dry-mopping will be virtually impossible
A little water goes along way. If you can get a pump - get one!
Black Spruce have shallow root systems and are likely to blow over with even a slight wind.
Probeye or other infra-red is suggested for any fire in spruce. Gridding the fire is necessary.
10 to 15 minute break.
AK Orientation part 1
Alaska Interagency Firefighter
Comments or concerns regarding
AFS Fire Operations Duty Office
P.O. Box 35005
Ft. Wainwright, AK 99703
(907) 356-5660 E-mail: fire.ak.blm.gov/
Get A Specific Local Briefing !
• Chain of Command
• Previous and expected fire behavior
• Fire weather forecasts and how updated
information is relayed
• Local factors that influence fire behavior
• Local fuel types/hazards/considerations
• Communication links/systems/problems
General response to:
Black Spruce at 60% RH
Fire will lay quiet and
Fire is generally not a
Fire can be controlled
by cold-trailing the edge.
General response to:
Black Spruce at 50% RH
•Burns slowly but
•R.O.S: 0 to 3 chains/hr.
•Flame lengths - 0 to 1 ft.
•Direct attack of the flanks
and head is effective.
•Hand line should hold.
General response to:
Black Spruce at 40% RH
•Burns hot with occasional
•R.O.S: 3 to 20 chains/hr.
•Flame lengths: 1- 2 ft.
•Projected Area Growth in the
first hour: 1 to 18 acres.
•Torching and spotting ahead
of the front.
General response to:
Black Spruce at 40% RH cont...
•10 mph wind - expect a slow moving
crown fire with surface fuels burning
in advance of the crowns.
•Closed canopy - may be too intense
for direct attack at the head.
•Canopy open - direct attack on
surface fire may be possible after
ladder fuels are consumed and the
fire drops back to the ground.
General response to:
Black Spruce at 40% RH cont...
•Don’t rely on blackline to
hold. Increase patrol.
•Retardant and hose lays are
•These fires are potentially
dangerous to personnel and
General response to:
Black Spruceat 30% RH
crowning, and spotting.
•R.O.S: 20 - 60 chains/hr.
•Flame length: 2 - 4 feet.
•Projected Area Growth in the first hour: 18 - 72 acres.
•Direct attack on flanks may still be effective, especially if
assisted with water or retardant.
General response to:
Black Spruce at 30% RH cont….
•Increase patrol and consider
aerial surveillance of line.
•With a 10 mph wind, expect
a full blown crown fire with
•These fires are definitely
dangerous to personnel and
equipment. Direct attack efforts
at the head will be ineffective.
•Indirect attack is advised.
General response to:
Black Spruce at 20% RH
•Intense, running, crowning,
•R.O.S. - greater than 60 chains/hr.
•Flame lengths - more than 4 feet.
•Projected Area Growth in the first
hour - greater than 72 acres.
•Expect major fire runs, control
efforts at the head are ineffective.
These fires are dangerous to
personnel and equipment!!
Black Spruce Fuel Models
•Use fuel model #9 (hardwood litter) X 1.21 to predict R.O.S .
•Use fuel model # 5 (2’ brush) to predict flame length or intensity .
Black Spruce is Alaska’s Problem Fuel
•Fire behavior in black spruce is
•A cool, rainy day or high RH
will make the fire lay quiet.
•If this is followed by clear,warm,
breezy weather with lower relative
humidity, the fire will be making
runs by afternoon.
Don’t underestimate this fuel type!!!