July 8, 2005

Unusual number of wildfires scorch Alaska coast

ANCHORAGE (Reuters) - Rising temperatures in Alaska have
sparked an unusual number of storms along the state's
south-central coast this summer, officials say, and the
multitude of lightning strikes and resulting fires have burned
more than 1 million acres .

In recent weeks, there have been thunderstorms nearly every
day along the normally temperate south-central coastline,
Sharon Alden, manager of Alaska's fire weather program, said in
an interview this week.

So far this summer, there have been 13 lightning-sparked
fires on the Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage, according to
state reports. That compares with 12 lightning-sparked fires in
the region between 1993 and 2004.

"I believe there is global warming, but what we're talking
about isn't global warming. We're talking about regional
warming," Alden said.

John See, a regional manager with the Alaska Division of
Forestry, said there was increasing concern that the stormy
weather and wildfires could indicate climate conditions have

"It's certainly a change in the 25 years I've been in my
position," See said. "If we see a continuation next year,
certainly we're going to be concerned that it's a pattern."

In the coastal areas south of Anchorage, there is a
concentration of dry, flammable timber left by a massive
spruce-bark beetle infestation that "offers a real big
resistance to suppressing fires," See said.

The region is also more heavily populated than hot and dry
interior Alaska, where lightning-sparked fires are common, but
often left to burn out on their own.

To cope with the extra workload, See said the state has
transferred some firefighters from the northern region and
called in reinforcements from outside the state.