Record-breaking wildfires in Alaska burn more than 3 million acres | DW News
As floods hit some parts of the US, wildfires are devastating other parts of the country, including the largely uninhabited state of Alaska. The White House says the total area destroyed is far higher than the ten-year average, in large part driven by the climate crisis. President Biden has approved a major disaster declaration for Alaska, which is experiencing an unusually fierce wave of forest fires. DW’s Carolina Chimoy met some of the people battling the fires, as well as the residents fleeing from them.
Alaska is the largest US state.
It is also the least densely populated.
Among its great treasures the untouched wilderness But much of that is now being destroyed.
Wildfires are not a new phenomenon here, but they are changing.
They are becoming more frequent – and more intense.
So much so, that this year, local firefighters here in Anderson were unable to get them under
control “When a fire happens and it gets bigger
than the local unit can handle like here in Anderson they have some local firefighters
but they are very small.
So when the fire gets bigger what they can control.
They would call for outside help.”
And help has come from all over the US.
Kate Airhart from Montana has been battling blazes country-wide for more than 20 years.
This is her fifth time in Alaska.
She is now supervising a team of 500 firefighters deployed to help control one wildfire…
Sadly, this property couldn’t be saved.
„It’s really when fires like this one start in and around populated areas even a
lightly populated area like this, that it becomes a problem.”
“Year after year you hear that I’ve never seen a fire behavior like this before.
And so I would say this abnormal weather is the new normal.
It’s getting harder to fight fires, resources are getting scarcer and we’re dealing with
winds like this” This summer more than 264 individual fires
have destroyed 1.25 million hectares of land across the state.
The blaze in Anderson is now under control, but the damage is extensive, and the strong
winds pose a risk too.
This used to be a forest.
We can see still smoke up there.
The fire fighters are still trying to get it under control.
We can strongly smell it.
Local people have had to evacuate their homes – among them, Don and Dorothy.
Winds were accelerating the blaze.
“They took all the firefighters out because it was so fast, it was a windy day, not as
windy as today, but it was like 3-4 miles it a few hours…”
When they returned, the fire was under control.
“It was kind of surreal.
There was smoke and fires in the trees over there burning.
The firemen were with us they said your house is safe!”
This time they were lucky, but there will certainly be wildfires here again, and experts
say global warming may make them more severe.
This time they were lucky, but there will certainly be wildfires here again, and experts,
like Prof Thoman say global warming may make them more severe.
“Lightning is the principal cause of wildfires in Alaska.
And so just a little bit of warming, just a little bit of added moisture, more lightning
strikes on ground that is dryer than it used to be because the snow is melting earlier,
giving it more chance to dry out.
So, you’ve got a flammable landscape.
we have this confluence of events, that are being driven by the large scale warming”
“We’re getting more and more fires that are just incinerators.
They turn whole landscapes that look like the moon.”
In the middle of the ashes hope remains, that at least a part of this charred land might
return to life… until the next wildfires hit again.