Thursday evening, when I drove down West Ridge, I pulled out onto the tourist viewing point from where one can see Denali on a clear day. No, it wasn’t because there was a view on North America’s highest mountain. No, Denali where not in sight at all. This viewpoint isn’t one of the best to begin with. In my opinion, one of the nicest views I ever had on Denali where on my first flight to Alaska where the great one was just left outside the window. You had the feeling you can walk over the wing and just touch it. Beautiful in pink in the 11 something pm evening midnight sun. The second nicest view was from one of the northern facing Captain Cook conference rooms in downtown Anchorage in spring 2015.
The reason I stopped was a huge black cloud of smoke rising high up into the blue sky over the Tanana Flats. When you see these smoke clouds, you know there is a fire. When you see them in spring, all you think is “… oh no, now the fires start again.”
Ok, I know, there isn’t a summer in Interior Alaska without wildfires. Actually, a friend of mine once said
Alaska summers smell like wildfires.
Tweet about this. And actually, as I type it smells like I am sitting next to a camp fire.
Of course, I wasn’t surprised to see fire smoke at this time a year. The typical Alaska wildfire starts in late May, early June. Then the dead grass and litter from last year are dry and the water from snowmelt is gone. Often the rivers are also low at that time and some creeks are dry as in May and June there is typically not much rain. The wildfire season ends in August, the rainiest month in the Interior. However, often fires smolder in the peat under the snow over winter and flare up again in spring. But I was surprised by the kind of smoke.
June is the windiest month, but it was pretty windy despite it was just towards the end of May. Thus, I was worried about the fire and the wind. Wind can push fires and can keep them alive by providing fresh oxygen. Thus, conditions were good for that fire to spread. I parked the car at the view point to take a peak at that unusual, mysterious looking smoke cloud. I pulled my iPad out of my work bag, powered it up and wanted to quickly take a photo by just opening the door. However, it was so windy that I had to close the car door to take a photo.
I stood at the cliff of the ridge and watched the smoke for a while. The wind made it look like the smoke was pumping, somehow like smoke signs. But of course it was the interaction of the wind and the buoyancy caused by the heat of the fire.
The smoke was black like the night. From the color of the smoke it didn’t look like wildfire smoke, i.e. when grass, peat, spruce, shrubs or other kind wood are burning. These wildfires typically have more a brownish color. There is also typically a huge water vapor release involved from the evaporation of water and sublimations of the ice in the active layer and/or permafrost underneath the burning vegetation or the peat. See the photo of the Goldstream Valley wildfire, I wrote about awhile ago, for comparison.
That smoke out there looked more like some kind of human-made material was burning. However, in the area of the smoke, the only living beings are vegetation, animals, bacteria, microbia and alike. Nobody lives there and even nobody usually goes there unless they have an order to go there. I wondered what was burning out there in the middle of nowhere.
While I was thinking what the burning material could be, the smoke calmed down and stopped. Despite the sound of the hauling wind – you rarely hear the wind in the Interior – I heard a man cursing in a loud voice from above “What the heck burned there.” Since in my mind there could be no man be “above”, I turned my head towards the direction of the voice. I saw a man standing in xtra-Tuffs – the Alaska It rubber boots with iron cap – on the top of the roof of a brand new 2017 Ford 350. He hold hunting binoculars in his hands in front of his eyes and was watching into the direction of where the smoke had come from.
I took some other photos from the view point as there was a great view of the Hayes Range, the eastern part of the Alaska Range (photo above). I shut my iPad down, put it back into my bag, and pulled out. The man was still standing on the top of the truck. He looked like Emily on a Rolls Royce with the long hair and wide open jacket blowing in the wind in the mirror.
Did you know that the Alaska Range is the highest range in the World outside of Asia and the Andes? Are there wildfires in the area you live? Are they an annual annoyance or occur one a decade? When you don’t live in an area with wildfires can you image the stink and thread they pose? Let me know by email, I am curious.
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Photos of me: G. Kramm
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