Smoke From Fire Visible On Tok Cutoff: Black Hills Fire Blazes Through Black Spruce Thickets In Tetlin Refuge

A growing fire in Tetlin Wildlife Refuge is billowing smoke that can be seen from nearby roads – including the Tok Cutoff. The fire is 56 mi...

A growing fire in Tetlin Wildlife Refuge is billowing smoke that can be seen from nearby roads – including the Tok Cutoff. The fire is 56 miles southeast of Tok. Here are the most current reports on the fire, from the Alaska Division of Forestry.


Firefighters battle testy Black Hills Fire near Tok to protect cabin on allotment 

Firefighters were able to successfully protect a cabin on an allotment threatened by a rapidly growing wildfire southeast of Tok on Thursday.

The fire burned up to and around the cabin but firefighters arrived in time to extinguish the flames before they ignited the cabin. The northwest corner of the allotment was impacted by the fire but the cabin survived intact, said acting Tok Fire Management Officer Kato Howard.

“They had to go in there and beat out some flames but the cabin’s still there,” Howard said.

A large column of smoke rising from a wildfire burning through black spruce in the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge
The Black Hills Fire approximately 56 miles southeast of Tok burns through black spruce on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. Wille Nelson/Alaska DNR-Division of Forestry

The Black Hills Fire is located in Limited protection area within the Tetlin National Wildilfe Refuge approximately 56 miles southeast of Tok. The lightning-caused fire was reported Wednesday afternoon and the initial size up put the fire at around 60 acres. Because it plotted in a Limited protection area, no suppression action was taken to allow the fire to function in its natural ecological role. Fire managers focused on protecting the cabin and allotment, as specified in the Alaska Interagency Wildland Fire Management Plan.

Fanned by erratic winds caused by passing thunderstorm cells and recent hot weather that has dried out fuels, the Black Hills Fire blew up quickly on Thursday afternoon, growing to an estimated 2,500 acres by 3:30 p.m.

A helicopter shuttled part of the Tanana Chiefs Crew into the fire to begin setting up protection measures around the allotment and cabin. The crew began cutting a saw line around cabin but had to retreat to a safety zone in a burned area due to increased fire intensity. Pushed by gusty winds, the fire made several erratic runs away from and toward firefighters working to protect the allotment, Howard said.  Once fire intensity lessened, the crew was able to reengage and protect the cabin.

“Yesterday was a bit of a hectic day,” he wrote in an email.

Two water-scooping aircraft based at Fort Wainwright and two helicopters made multiple water drops on the northwest corner of the fire closest to the cabin and an air tanker made multiple retardant drops around the cabin and allotment. There were seven fixed- and rotor-winged aircraft working over the fire late into the evening.

It’s unclear how much of the allotment was impacted by the fire and the 3,500-acre estimate is rough guess because smoke and weather limited visibility for aircraft, Howard said. Fire managers should have a clearer picture by this afternoon as to how much of the allotment burned.

The remainder of the TCC crew was shuttled into the fire Friday and the crew is working to mop up areas burned around the cabin and allotment and to cut saw lines around both. They will lay a hose line around the allotment and cabin to plumb it with pumps and sprinklers that can be used to wet down the area around both if the fire threatens them again.

The fire received moderate to heavy precipitation overnight Thursday to help reduce fire behavior and light precipitation was falling on and off today.

A Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) has been put in place over the fire area to ensure a safe environment for aircraft working on the incident. Go to for more information on the TFR.


Smoke from new wildfire in Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge attracts attention in Tok 

The Division of Forestry’s Tok Area station is monitoring a new wildfire in the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge about 56 miles southeast of Tok.

The Black Hills Fire was reported on Wednesday and is burning about 2 miles west of Jatahmund Lake and 3 miles east of the Nabesna River. The fire, burning in a Limited protection area, was estimated at about 60 acres in size Wednesday afternoon following a helicopter reconnaissance flight. It is burning in black spruce and will continue to grow as the fire is being allowed to burn to function in its natural ecological role. There are several lakes and ponds in the area that will serve as natural barriers to help slow the progress of the fire.

Smoke from the fire is visible from the Alaska Highway, Tok CutOff and Tetlin Road. The Tok Area Forestry station has fielded multiple calls from the public to report the fire and ask questions.

Two crews have been ordered to be flown into the fire later today to protect a Native allotment with a cabin on it about 2 miles northeast of the fire. The crews will work on improving an old saw line that has been cut around the allotment and set up pumps, hose and sprinklers around the cabin that can be turned on in the event the fire threatens the structure.


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