Smoke chokes the Seward Peninsula and points north

Nomeites awoke to the pungent smell of freshly burned wood and the sight of dense fog that was actually smoke from two wildfires burning 430 miles south of Nome near Lake Illiamna.

The National Weather Service has issued a heavy smoke advisory in effect until Friday evening, 10 p.m. The view includes Nome, White Mountain and Golovin. The weather service said in the statement that dense smoke reduced visibility to less than a mile and said the air quality was poor. “People with respiratory illnesses should stay indoors to avoid inhaling smoke,” the statement said.

Norton Sound Health Corporation issued a statement saying, “The best way to reduce your risk of smoke inhalation is to keep indoor air as clean as possible. Stay indoors if you can, with your doors and windows closed. People with respiratory illnesses should stay indoors to avoid inhaling smoke. If you are driving, please slow down, turn on the headlights and leave enough distance in front of you.

The best air quality data comes from a PurpleAir air quality monitor located at Norton Sound Regional Hospital. The monitor measured a value of 750 Friday morning around 9:10. The value has since fallen to 240 as of 4:30 p.m. Friday. However, the low visibility and the pungent smell of burnt wood remain.

According to Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, once the air quality index value exceeds 300, the level of concern is elevated to hazardous and triggers a health warning of emergency conditions. and everyone is more likely to be affected. However, in the absence of an official EPA monitor in the area, no agency issued a warning except for the weather service’s statement which only expressed concern for those suffering. of respiratory diseases and the NSHC advising people to stay indoors. The NSHC also shut down operations across the region, except for emergencies, for the remainder of Friday, as did Kawerak.

Racheal Lee, director of NSHC’s Office of Environmental Health, warns that the PurpleAir outdoor monitor used by NSHC at their facility is not 100% accurate, but can be used as a guide to air quality conditions. .

Rick Thoman, an Alaskan climate scientist at the UAF’s International Arctic Research Center, said the smoke flooding the Seward Peninsula is from the Pike Creek and Koktuli River fires that merged into one. one big fire. He said he never imagined smoke from a fire so far away could cause such poor air quality. Thoman said a 50-mile-long wall of fire north of Lake Illiamna was being pushed by strong south-easterly winds, sweeping a huge amount of land which burned last night. A weakened weather front to the west created the southeasterly winds that fanned the fires and also blew the smoke in a straight line toward the Seward Peninsula and further north. “What you’re breathing in Nome right now are living trees yesterday morning,” Thoman said Friday afternoon. Satellite images showed a thick line of smoke at the site of the wildfires on Thursday and smoke spreading into northwest Alaska on Friday. Social media posts show thick, smoky haze in Nome, Teller, Wales, Diomede, Golovin. As Thoman was stunned by thick smoke choking Nome, about 400 miles from the actual blaze, he delved into data collections of comparable poor air quality in the area. He found that on July 31 and August 1, 1977, a wildfire that burned half a million acres on the Seward Peninsula caused similar poor air quality conditions, although the fire was much closer to Nome.

According to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center wildfire dashboard, the Koktuli fire is staffed and has so far burned 176,222 acres and the Pike Creek fire has consumed 82,471 acres. at 4:30 p.m. Friday.

Thoman said there is rain on the radar for Nome which will help clear the haze, but the forecast continues to call for aloft southeast winds all weekend, with the potential to bring more haze from other fires in the area. .

According to the Wildfire Dashboard, there are currently 165 active fires in Alaska. This year’s fire season has already burned a record 1,005,196 acres as of June 18, making it the first date in at least 32 years to exceed one million acres. Abnormally hot and dry weather, a result of climate change, has helped ignite fires.

Despite the dense smoke evident in the area, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has not issued an air quality advisory for the northwest region. On its Facebook page, it posts air quality advisories for the South-Central, Central, Eastern and Western Interior regions, but not for Norton Strait, Bering Strait or the northern region.

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