July brings the height of Alaska’s busy wildfire season. At this time, lightning, dry vegetation, long hours of warm daylight, and human activities all conspire to light new fires and keep old ones going.

Wildfire is a natural part of most Alaskan ecosystems. As elsewhere, it contributes to forest health, nutrient cycling, and wildlife habitat. It occurs most frequently in the state’s interior and least in the south-coastal rainforests. But climate change is altering fire’s dynamics.

First, Alaska’s snow season is arriving later and ending earlier, leaving more time for fire to burn. Summertime temperatures are also rising, leading to more dryness, heat, and expansion of fire northward. Lightning is also increasing. And warming nighttime temperatures help fires retain more energy overnight.

Many Alaskan fires are allowed to burn in remote areas to maintain natural processes, but wildfires threatening communities are suppressed. Fighting fire is an important career in Alaska, especially in rural areas. Each July, after Alaska’s fire season peaks, fire crews ship south for the height of fire activity in the American West, which is usually later in July or August.


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