National Geographic : 2019 May
0mi 100 0km 100 Fort Wainwright Smokejumper base Gulf of Alaska Bering Sea Norton Sound BeringStr. Prudhoe Bay Trans-Alaska Pipeline Fort Wainwright Smokejumper base ARCTICCIRCLEALASKA R ANGEALASKAPENINSULABROOKSRANGENORTHSLOPE Kodiak I. Utqiaġvik (Barrow) Deadhorse Nome Alpine Valdez Anchorage Tanana Fairbanks ALASKA CANADAU.S. RUSSIA Black spruce range in Alaska Smokejumper deployments (2004–2018) Firefighters face unique challenges in Alaska, which accounts for one-sixth of the entire U.S. in land area, much of it uninhabited. Up to 40 percent of Alaska is boreal forest, populated mostly by highly flammable black spruce. Many unoccupied territories are simply allowed to burn; remote outposts can only be protected by smokejumpers able to parachute to the rescue. ALASKAN TINDERBOX Forest fuel Most forest fires burn progressively upward, from grasses to shrubs to trees. RYAN MORRIS AND JASON TREAT, NG STAFF; MEG ROOSEVELT. ART: JOE WILSON SOURCES: WILLIAM CRAMER, ALASKA FIRE SERVICE; U.S. FOREST SERVICE; BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT SURFACE Grasses Fires that begin on the ground, such as those started by people, burn low-lying grasses, lichen, and moss. Attack and protect About five dozen Alaskan smokejumpers divide their workload into three tasks: initial attack to contain early fires, protection of specific properties, and fighting larger fires. PACIFIC OCEAN ALASKA ARCTIC CIRCLE U.S.