Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Alaska’s emergency wildfire crews are burning out

Wildfire is part of life in Alaska’s rural interior. During summer, it’s not uncommon for more than 2,000 lightning strikes to touch down in a single day, igniting the dry, hot lowlands. Emergency Firefighter Type 2 crews, consisting primarily of local Alaskan Natives, typically serve as the first line of defense against conflagrations. “Most people here have fought wildfire in some form throughout their lives,” says Alexander, who served eight years with the Denali Hotshots and is now the Yukon Flats Center coordinator at the University of Alaska. Yet more and more would-be-firefighters are seeking economic opportunities elsewhere, leaving remote villages vulnerable to wildfires made more intense by climate change. Many wonder how much longer Native villagers can be protected from flames and smoke before they’re forced to flee for good — a new wave of climate refugees. Alexander is based out of Fort Yukon, an Alaska Native village, population 600, at the junction of the Yukon and Porcupine rivers, about 145 miles northeast of Fairbanks. It epitomizes the challenges facing local communities...more

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