My First Look At The Willow Area

My final OT session was yesterday (Thursday, June 25th) and so I had reason to make the 64 mile drive south down the Parks Highway to Wasilla; in so doing I drove through the Willow area. It occurred to me I’ve never actually seen an area recently burned by a wildfire and so I was basically clueless as to what I would see. Much to my surprise it was actually rather limited in scope but then this was only what  I could view from the highway as I had no intention of wandering around the area. I began to see burned areas perhaps four miles north of Willow and recognized the destruction was extremely haphazard in nature; in some areas wide swaths of forest were burned but in others just pockets of forest and grassy areas were blackened with other areas immediately adjacent untouched. I also witnessed a couple of apparently intact dwellings surrounded by blackened forest; this bore testimony to the valor and skill of the hero firefighters and possibly some die-hard locals.The air was just a bit hazy but I believe this was due to the slowly breaking down temperature inversion we’ve experienced across this week but the instantly recognizable smell of ‘wildfire’ was everywhere. Along with the smell were numerous signs thanking the firefighters; in addition there were official signs designating command centers, a heli-pad, and marshaling points. I also did see a few fire vehicles off the road in burned areas. The main town of Willow appeared to be untouched by the fire but was mostly surrounded by burned areas especially to the north and east. While driving through Willow I tried to imagine how it would have appeared with smoke and active fire all around the outskirts; it would have been very frightening!

I must admit that I had expected to see more damage given all the reports and aerial coverage but was very pleased to see a relative dearth of destroyed buildings. This is not to minimize the destruction wrought by the Sockeye Fire; it was very costly and only because of the heroic actions of the firefighters and immediate action on the part of the Mat-Su Borough in getting evacuation plans functioning were no lives lost. Even so it was a debilitating fire and something no one would want to experience if given a choice. It is up to we Alaskans to insure our sisters and brothers receive all the assistance they require to put their lives back together. While heartbreaking to lose one’s home and possessions to such an event in the end it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been especially as Mother Nature did not cooperate. In the final analysis possessions are just ‘things’ but life is special and also irreplaceable.

Concentration of firefighting vehicles just north of Willow

Concentration of firefighting vehicles just north of Willow

Burned areas on both sides of the Parks north of Willow

Burned areas on both sides of the Parks north of Willow

Close up of burned Boreal Forest

Close up of burned Boreal Forest

Fire truck heading north on the Parks Highway

Fire truck heading north on the Parks Highway


4 thoughts on “My First Look At The Willow Area

  1. Usually the worst is hidden behind a wall of trees that for some reason never catches fire. I remember when a fire was within a mile of our homestead and a crew of smoke jumpers had set up sprinklers around each of our cabins. They seemed at times fearless when walking directly towards the fire and started to cut a firebreak. You were blessed that the wind was blowing away from Talkeetna.

  2. You better believe it, Pete! But for the grace of God all of us in this area could’ve been forced north – and that’s tough ’cause there isn’t much between here and the Park – if the winds had blown from the south instead of from the north…

  3. Glad that the fire wasn’t near your place Bill. I looked up Alaskan fires a week or so ago. I couldn’t believe the huge number of fires there. I remember the fires in the San Gabriel mountains in the 60s. Our family visited Yellowstone in ’91 and saw the burned out forests from the huge fires they had years before. The amazing thing was the growth and greenery with all the burned out tree stumps. Glad to hear that you are safe and that the OT is complete.

  4. Thanks for the kind words and wishes, Sammy! All of us in this area recognize just how incredibly lucky we were regarding the Sockeye Fire especially as the prevailing spring/summer winds in this area blow from the SSE. Had that been the case a few weeks back we’d all have most likely been forced to evacuate. This would have been difficult because we’d have had to move north and there is very little in terms of organized civilization between here and Cantwell 125 miles north. Sadly there are now over 300 distinct wildfires burning in ‘The Great Land’ yet we can hardly buy rain. The eastern section of the interior had flash flood warnings but although we were forecast to receive rain Friday and Saturday I recorded only 0.01″ total across the past 48 hours. It remains tinderbox dry up here and going into tourist season this is not good…

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