‘Rare’ Wildfire Discovered on South Side of Alaska Range in Denali National Park

by Amy Myers

Officials at Denali National Park have just discovered a new wildfire burning on the south side of the Alaska mountain range. The fire seemingly began on July 3rd south of the terminus of the Yentna Glacier. They estimate that the fire is at five to seven acres.

According to the park, the cause of the wildfire is not yet clear. However, the area did see lightning on June 30. Still, wildfires in this part of the park are relatively rare.

The park explained that this is only the fourth fire found south of Broad Pass of the Alaska Range. Currently, park staff is monitoring the wildfire but has not yet engaged in any management tactics.

“The Yentna fire is burning in a Limited Fire Management Option area within the Park/Preserve and the goal is to maintain the natural ecological processes,” the release continued. “The Protecting Agency (State of Alaska DNR Division of Forestry – Matsu/Southwest Area Forestry) will monitor the fire and conduct point source protection tactics if needed.”

Denali National Park Stresses Vitality of ‘Naturally Occurring Wildland Fires’

Normally, when we hear word of wildfires, the news is pretty grim. It’s true, we have lost many precious acres, habitats and even neighborhoods to past flames. At the same time, Denali National Park reminded parkgoers that naturally occurring wildfires are a necessary part of the ecosystem.

When properly monitored and controlled, these fires get rid of dry, dead brush and allow new growth in their wake. That said, there are still consequences to even the mildest fires. As the burning continues, park staff is also paying close attention to the local air quality.

“Naturally occurring wildland fires are important to the health of ecosystems in Denali National Park and Preserve, but wildfire smoke can pose a significant threat to human health,” the park explained. “Park visitors may encounter smoke from the Yentna Fire or other wildfires in the state (particularly at the Park Entrance Area), dependent on fire behavior and weather conditions. When air quality advisories for Denali are issued by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC), they will be posted throughout the park.”

The last wildfire that this area of Denali National Park experienced was in June of 2018. Similar to the current blaze, the National Park Service recognized the vital role it played. In particular, the Black Spruce partially depends on fire. This is because canopy fires are what open the trees’ cones, releasing the seeds inside.

“Furthermore, fire plays a key role in the regulation of the permafrost table,” the park stated. “Without the routine occurrence of fire, organic matter accumulates, the permafrost table rises, and ecosystem productivity declines. Vegetation communities, wildlife habitat and wildlife become less diverse.”