Tussock Tundra Found on extensive areas of flat to rolling land in western Alaska, the Seward peninsula, SW Alaska (McGrath, Bristol Bay, Yukon-Kuskokwim delta). Also found on many shallow slopes and mountain valleys anywhere in the interior.
Tussock Tundra can be described as a bunch grass prairie with the space between bunches filled with a thick cushion of other plants such as lichens, mosses and small shrubs.
Standing water between the tussocks is quite common. Walking is extremely difficult in this type of fuel depending on the height of the tussocks. Like walking on greased bowling balls on a water bed.
Tussock tundra is a flashy fuel acting much like grasses of the Western US.
High Rate of spread and is potentially dangerous. Live and dead grasses and mosses react quickly to changes in RH. Fire pushed by winds cannot be outrun.
Tops of tussocks will burn readily even with bases in standing water.
A typical rate of spread is 20-100 chains/hr. Fuel model #1 (short grass) if tussocks are 1 foot or less. Fuel model #3 (tall grass) if tussocks are taller than 1 foot. Just because it’s green doesn’t mean it won’t burn.
Common responses to RH 55% RH = Moisture of extinction.
30% RH = with winds 5-10 mph produces 3’ flames lengths. Handcrews will be effective beating at the head and flanks. Black line is sufficient for control - if you patrol. Retardant is very effective in assisting direct attack.
20-30% RH = with 15 mph winds may produce 10’ flame lengths. Handcrews can still work flanks if assisted by aerial retardant or water drops, pumps, or fedcos.
RH less than 20% with moderate winds. Establish indirect lines and burn out.
ALWAYS WATCH BEHIND YOU FOR RE-BURN, KEEP ONE FOOT IN THE BLACK! There is usually very little mop-up needed in tussock tundra, remember that patrol is key to control.
Erosion will begin almost immediately on any handline in tundra unless rehab’ed.
Hardwood Forests (Birch, Aspen, Alder, Cottonwood) Common on upland sites in the interior. Aspen are common on warm south facing, well drained sites and grade into Birch on colder, wetter sites often mixed with Black or White Spruce. Understory may be composed of willow, cranberry, low shrubs, mosses, lichens etc. Not a problem fuel type except prior to green-up or under drought conditions. Generally a good area to use as a safety zone
May be used as a natural barrier. A crowning spruce fire will usually drop to the forest floor when it reaches a hardwood stand, depending on stand size, drought conditions. Hardwoods can be a good safety zone.
Mop-up is difficult and tedious due to fuel loading, root maze and deep smoldering ground fuels. Older rotten birch may present a hazard.
Fuel model#9 (hardwood litter) or Fuel model #10 if a lot of dead down fuel is present.
White Spruce Common along meandering streams, lakes and major rivers. Often mixed with poplar and birch. May reach 75 ft. tall and 30” DBH; well formed crowns , lacks ladder fuels.
Generally low intensity fires. occasional individual torching, shallow roots. Intense ground fire can occur where understories are well developed. Intense crowning can occur in bug-killed spruce, especially with wind.
White Spruce is valuable timber, fire proof first, fall only if necessary.
Mop-up may be difficult, watch for trees falling during mop-up.
Other Fuel types Other fuel types and combinations of fuel types exist throughout Alaska. Make sure that your local briefing discusses the significance and safety concerns of these differences.
As with anywhere else, there are special consideration concerning the wildland urban interface Cooperative Agreements Various levels of ICS understanding Various levels of experience and qualifications Communication differences Private property concerns
Fire shelter fabric is available by the roll. Combined with rainbird sprinklers, this can be effective for cabin protection.
Logistics: Logistics for fires along Alaska’s road corridors are occasionally about the same as in the lower 48. These fires are the exception, not the rule. There is a shortage of vendors in Alaska. Even many roadside fires are run as remote fires.
Alaska has large roadless areas, aircraft or boats are often the only means of transportation.
Large distances hamper aerial detection, (there are no lookouts in Alaska.) Time from detection to initial attack may be great due to large distances. SAC’s (Sectional Aeronautical Charts) and WAC’s (World Aeronautical Charts) are used for navigation and plotting legals. Latitude and longitude are used instead of Township, Range and Section for most fires. Exact coordinates are essential for expediting operations and plotting fires in the correct option area. GPS works great. It can be quite difficult to find small remote fires without good coordinates. Especially when the fire is out.
Helicopters are used extensively to demob jumpers, deliver crews and supplies to the fire and fireline, to retrieve paracargo, for aerial reconnaissance, bucket drops, aerial firing, helitack. Aircraft are often “double-crewed” to maximize their use. SAC’s (Sectional Aeronautical Charts) and WAC’s (World Aeronautical Charts) are used for navigation and plotting legals. Latitude and longitude are used instead of Township, Range and Section for most fires. SAC’s (Sectional Aeronautical Charts) and WAC’s (World Aeronautical Charts) are used for navigation and plotting legals.
Military Operations Areas (MOA’s) are extensive throughout Alaska. The largest exercise is Operation “Cope Thunder,” Cope Thunder is an on-going air combat exercise conducted three times per summer for two weeks each. This exercise can exceed 100 US and foreign military aircraft operating above more than one million acres of eastern central Alaska. During these training periods the military develops tactics for aerial warfare, tests new weapons systems, and practices close-air support and forward air control. While good coordination exists between suppression agencies and the military, “see and avoid” is the best rule. Whether you are in the air or on the ground, always keep an eye out for aircraft intrusion and report any problems.
Fire operations in Alaska are often totally dependent on aircraft for movement of personnel and supplies. Distances create substantial (12-48 hr) time lags in delivery of personnel and supplies.
Paracargo may be the most efficient method of delivery for remote fires. Ordering and retrieving P/C requires expertise and ties up substantial helicopter time. If you’re unfamiliar with P/C, ask!
Limit supplies to essentials due to expense of paracargo and helicopter cost.
Alaska Staging Areas are established at bush village airstrips to service multiple or large fires. Staging Areas usually work for the Area or Zone - not the fire.
During high fire activity, aircraft availability becomes limited. Operations are completed with minimal aircraft, requiring careful planning.
Plans often change as priorities change, be flexible, you may not have a helicopter when you were expecting it. Try to have a contingency that considers other options. You may need to share aircraft with multiple fires and allotted a small “window of opportunity” to accomplish all of your planned missions.
Aircraft fuel is a critical consideration. Amounts must be closely monitored and future needs anticipated. Temporary fuel sites are often established at staging areas where commercial fuel is not available. Nothing will shut down an operation faster than running out of fuel.
Long daylight hours allow for extensive flying, 24 hours frequently. Double crewing on medium helicopters is common. Density altitude is not usually a factor due to low temps and low elevation. Load calculations, manifesting and safety measures are required within the guidelines of the IHOG.
In boggy areas, log decks may need to be built. Use spruce. Make sure that the deck is large enough and strong enough for the intended use. (Rely on local expertise) Remove decks before demobe.
Communications: Permanent communication systems (phones, teletype, radio, fax. computers) are located at field stations. Basic in field communications are King radios.
Radio frequencies are often referred to by a color code. Colors and frequencies are listed in the Alaska Handy Dandy.
Satellite phone systems with telephone and data capability are sometimes available. Iridium phones may also be requested on an incident. Cell phone coverage levels are expanding in Alaska, but at this time are limited to more populated areas.
Distances and landforms cause holes in the commo network. Repeaters and mountain tops links are installed when needed. Larsen antennae are available through the warehouse system. They are portable and often a simple to solution to a commo problem.
Fires in remote areas are given daily fly-bys with detection or other aircraft. This may be the only contact for placing orders, night reports, demobe information or getting medical assistance, etc. A personal locator beacon (PLB) may be helpful for emergencies in locations with poor communications. A limited number of PLB’s are available within the warehouse system.
Medical Considerations: The Fire Medic Program can provide emergency and non-emergency on-incident medical care. When personnel numbers on an incident exceed 100 it is recommended that you order a fire medic kit with medic. Additional medics (and kits) can be ordered for additional personnel. The Alaska Smokejumpers also have an EMT program that can provide aerial delivery of EMT’s.
Check with the zone or area on specific policies for releasing medevacs, re-mobe after medevacs, and priorities for demobe. Non-emergency medevacs will be transported space-available.
Field Conditions Field stations may have caches, messhalls, and barracks or tent frames.
Fire camps may be primitive. There may be no showers, porta-potties, catering, tables, or chairs.
With ingenuity they can be made very comfortable.
Latrines are used – insure privacy, order toilet paper, bug dope, pic, and chlorinated lime.
Facilities are constructed with materials on hand, i.e.. logs, cardboard, cord, plastic sheeting.
Spike camps are the rule on large remote Alaska fires to maximize line production and conserve helicopter time.
These camps need to be staffed with helispot manager, camp manager, etc. (These will probably be the same individual.)
Food is MRE’s and fresh food boxes, contents of 1 fresh food box will feed 6 people for 3 days. Fresh food boxes must be ordered 3 days in advance. Remember to order cooking utensils. There are slight differences between AFS and DOF boxes
Individuals cook their own food over campfires
Individuals that did not bring a tent will be provided with an EFF bag containing Visqueen and mosquito net to build a hooch.
Giardia is common in all waterways in Alaska. Drinking water can be delivered in 5 gallon cubitainers. Water delivery is expensive! (Average cost for remote fire water delivery $1.86 per gallon.) Water can also be produced by an on-site water treatment system. Water purification systems may be available through the AFS warehouse system.
Washing with cubie water is frowned on. Be creative.
4-16 person camp crews can be utilized at large fire camps to maintain facilities, cut firewood and collect garbage.
Mosquitoes and other insects are a problem, your ability to obtain bug-dope will be directly tied to your mental health.
Be prepared for a 21 day assignment! Be prepared for cold - wet weather. Keep a three day supply of food and water in case you get weathered in! Rule of Thumb: 1 cubitainer and 1 case of MRE’s per person per three days.
Wildlife Fishing and hunting requires a license.
Black bears are very common on fires, they are attracted by food and garbage. Keep eating and sleeping areas separate, don’t take food to your tent. Backhaul garbage daily. Consider burning cardboard if conditions warrant. Keep food boxed up and in cooling pits that are dug into the permafrost.
Bears are temporarily deterred with fusees, chainsaw noise or helicopters.
Aggressive bear behavior - standing sideways trying to impress you with its size, snapping teeth very aggressive. If a bear becomes a problem, options include; ...moving camp ...demobing the fire ...if all other practical means to protect life and property are exhausted, consider killing the bear. This requires a qualified gunman, Fish and Game notification, and preservation of the head, hide and claws. The meat can be utilized in camp.
Cow moose can also be very dangerous. (Especially in the fall, during rut.)
EFF Workforce EFF crews across Alaska are largely Native, but there are also other races. Alaska Natives are not all Indians as they are usually referred in the Lower 48. Some are Indian and some are Eskimo. Eskimos typically live in the coastal areas. (Yupik’s in the southwest, Inupiaq’s in the west and north.) Athabaskan Indians live throughout the interior of Alaska, in villages primarily along rivers. The best term to use is Alaska Native.
Over 2000 trained firefighters are available in the villages throughout Alaska.
Alaska EFF Crew Management Guide The crew management guide is the SOP when utilizing Emergency Firefighters. Most problems you may have working with Alaska EFF crews will most likely be from not reading this guide, and not listening to what I am about to say
EFF crew hires account for a substantial influx of cash into the local interior economies. Hire EFF at their villages as the need arises. All individuals sign a Condition of Hire sheet. They are either outfitted in their village, at a field station, or at a staging area. Crewbosses are usually highly respected individuals in their village. They are frequently very experienced firefighters. Deal with the crewboss. EFF crews are configured as 16 person crews. A crewboss, 3 Squad bosses, 12 Crewmembers. A crew may be composed of families with 3 generations represented; old, young, male, female. Evaluation of each crew is mandatory. Conduct and performance problems are dealt with as outlined in the Alaska EFF Crew Management Guide. Crews may keep a crewmember (camp boss) in camp for security and cooking. This is an IC call.
Capabilities Crew capability varies from crew to crew. Crews are generally very capable and may have members with extensive firefighting experience. Crews demonstrate good line construction techniques, generally very experienced with saws, pumps and boats. They sometimes need direction in backfiring and air operations. Diligent in mop-up when treated well. Excellent in survival measures. Have great depth of knowledge about the environment and Alaska wildfire behavior. Consider their advice.
Hotshot Crews: AFS has three Type I Hotshot Crews, (Chena, Midnight Sun and Denali.) The North Star Fire Crew is a volunteer Type 2 crew. It is an entry level development program for the AFS Hotshots Crews. The Tazlina Fire Crew is an EFF Crew that is used as a Type 1 crew.
Commissary: After three days on a fire, initial commissary can be ordered for delivery on the fifth day. Read the commissary policy in the Handy Dandy and don’t screw it up.
END OF SLIDE SHOW
AK Orientation part 2
Alaska Interagency Firefighter
•A typical rate of
spread is 20-100
•Fuel model #1 (short
grass) if tussocks
are 1 foot or less.
•Fuel model #3 (tall
grass) if tussocks are
taller than 1 foot.
Just because it is green doesn’t mean it won’t burn.
General Response to:
Tussock Tundra at 55% RH
General Response to:
Tussock Tundra at 30% RH
•Hand crews will be
effective beating at
the head and flanks.
sufficient for controlif you patrol.
•Retardant is very
effective in assisting
•With winds 5-10 mph
produces 3’ flame
Always watch behind you for reburn and keep one foot in the black!!
General Response to:
Tussock Tundra at 20 - 30% RH
•Handcrews can still
work flanks if assisted
by aerial retardant or
water drops, pumps, or
•With 15 mph winds, may
produce 10’ flame lengths.
Always watch behind you for re-burn and keep one foot in the black!!
General Response to:
Tussock Tundra at less than 20% RH
•Establish indirect lines
and burn out!
Always watch behind you for reburn and keep one foot in the black!!
Make Sure Your Local
•Previous expected fire behavior.
•Local factors that influence
•Local fuel types / hazards &
Wildland Urban Interface Considerations
•Various levels of ICS
•Various levels of
•Private property concerns.