Alaska Wildfires Visualization

Over a million acres have burned in Alaska this year. Low snowpack and the low meltwater that followed were hammered with a persistent high pressure system that baked the spruce forest and tundra to tinder. A series of thunderstorms was all it took to light Alaska on fire.

This map shows the cumulative discovery dates of Alaska’s wildfires during the month of June.

NOTES: This data does not capture the “out dates” for the fires. This simply shows in sequence the 403 fires that have been documented this month.

Data: Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Alaska’s Fires From Space – 6/24/15

Close to 300 fires are burning in Alaska right now.

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This MODIS imagery was processed at about 4 p.m. Alaska time on June 24th.

Yes, that’s a lot of smoke.

Here is a sketch of the 278 fires that managers tallied as of Wednesday evening. The number changes constantly.

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NASA’s MODIS instrument has good temporal resolution and provides valuable thermal data as well as RGB truecolor, among other data.

It gets messy trying to show the more than 400,000 acres that have burned in 545 fires this year. This image went viral for the Alaska DNR / Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

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Credit: Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Here is my version of a tribute to that image:

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That’s a little too much. I’m going to try to focus a bit on a few areas of interest to my region. 66 fires are burning in southwest Alaska.

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The regional hub and my home Bethel is full of smoke and in sight range of a fire northeast of town, but has largely avoided any close calls.

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You can see the fires, however.

As you move up the Kuskokwim River into the hot, dry interior, things change. Aniak and Crooked Creek have fires nearby. Kalskag has seen over 40,000 acres burn (and reignite after crews left) in the Whitefish Lake and Bogus Creek fires.

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The Lime Village region also burned extensively in 2013.

The Lime Village region is very prone to burning.

Fires intensify further east in the interior. Tanana is surrounded by fire.

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On the Yukon, Nulato evacuated by boat to Galena earlier this week.

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Above the Arctic Circle near the Canadian boarder, the smoke swirled.

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Not even the Lower Yukon got a break.

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Be safe and find more information from the experts who are keeping the state safe. Huge thanks to the firefighters. They are stretched very thin.

DATA: Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, GINA, NASA, US Census Bureau. Maps compiled in QGIS 2.4.

Wildfire Smoke Plume Timelapse

Alaska is in the midst of an intense wildfire season. A massive high pressure system has brought bright sun and hot winds: the recipe for fast-spreading wildfires. On June 20th, I captured a brief time lapse video of smoke visible from the northern edge of Bethel. The nearest fire is the Fog River fire, located several miles east of Akiak. The much larger Whitefish Lake fire lies to the north of that blaze.

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Bethel, Alaska has been called “a bootleggers paradise.” Surrounded by 56 small villages with varying degrees of prohibition, my home base of 6,000 people has no limits on importing alcohol. People can and do buy cases of liquor have it delivered to the airport. Once in the regional hub, it travels by snowmobile, boat, and plance across millions of acres of low tundra, rivers, and mountains to customers in places that have banned it.
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I recently completed a fellowship with the Alaska Press Club for KYUK which asked Alaskan journalists to tell the story of alcohol by digging into the data beneath the state’s alcohol reality and the stories it reveals. I chose to focus on bootlegging: the illegal movement of liquor to the dozens of villages in remote Alaska that have voted to ban the importation, sale, or possession of alcohol.

The villages are traditional Alaska Native communities in which a cash-subsistence economy dominates. There are few jobs and people work together to catch fish, hunt moose, and live life in one of the most challenging environments in the world.

The economics of illegal alcohol are staggering. People in Bethel can buy alcohol from Anchorage via air carrier, or by bringing it back in their luggage. There are no local stores now (although that may change over the next several months.)
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Chasing the Kuskokwim River Breakup

Dozens of villages on the 700-mile Kuskokwim river eagerly wait for the mighty Kuskokwim to break up after a long winter. I had a chance to fly with RiverWatch, a joint state-federal effort to watch for ice jams, flooding, and otherwise problematic breakup conditions on the river. ┬áThe team provides real time broadcasts over VHF radio to the homes and government offices in villages with literally up to the second information about where the breakup front it, what it’s doing, and what the community needs to know to stay safe. This video chronicled one evening flight with the team.