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Wildfire Is Transforming Alaska and Amplifying Climate Change

Wildfire Is Transforming Alaska and Amplifying Climate Change

Although conflagrations in lower latitudes get more attention, wildfires across the high north are affecting the planet even more

By Randi Jandt, Alison York

On June 5, 2019, lightning from an unusually early spring thunderstorm ignited a blaze deep inside the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in south-central Alaska. High temperatures at the end of May had reversed a wet spring and quickly dried out the forest floor. The resulting Swan Lake Fire, about five miles northeast of Sterling, spread relentlessly for a month as the extraordinarily warm weather continued. By July 9 more than 99,000 acres had burned, and more than 400 people were fighting the flames. On August 17 high winds changed the fire's direction, causing numerous evacuations. The wind also downed power lines that sparked new fires, including the Deshka Landing Fire and the fast-moving McKinley Fire, which engulfed more than 130 homes, businesses and outbuildings. Fortunately, no one died.

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