2004 Wildland Fire Season Summary


The Alaskan summer of 2004 was unusual. It was the warmest and the third driest summer on record, the most lightning strikes were recorded, wildland fires burned the largest acreage in recorded Alaska history, and smoke drifted over much of the state during the summer. Smoke concentrations were often in the "Unhealthy," "Very Unhealthy," and "Hazardous" ranges.

Wildfire smoke is a mixture of gas and tiny bits of matter, called particulate matter. It is made up of a number of components, including acids, organic chemicals, metals, soil or dust particles, and allergens (such as fragments of pollen or mold spores). Small particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter pose the greatest problems, because they can get deep into your lungs, and some may even get into your bloodstream. Exposure to such particles can affect both your lungs and your heart.

How bad was the air in Fairbanks the summer of 2004?

A particulate monitor in downtown Fairbanks captured the local PM2.5 levels (those particles 2.5 micrometers in diameter or less).

  • The highest hourly levels recorded in Fairbanks were over 1000 micrograms/cubic meter.
  • Recorded levels in Fairbanks were over the EPA Hazardous 24 hour level for 15 days. See the Fairbanks 24 hour (PDF) and hourly (PDF) particulate level graphs. When levels reach “Hazardous” (over 250 micrograms / cubic meter for 24 hour average), EPA cautions that everyone should avoid any outdoor exertion, and people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly, and children should remain indoors.
  • Fairbanks 24 hour recorded PM2.5 levels were over EPA's Unhealthy category ( 65 micrograms per cubic meter) for 31 days.
  • The average daily summer PM2.5 level in the Fairbanks area is 10 micrograms/cubic meter.
  •   Fairbanks 2004 daily PM2.5 graph   Fairbanks 2004 hourly PM2.5 graph

    24 hour Average PM2.5 Particulate Levels, Summer of 2004, Fairbanks, AK


    Fairbanks Hourly PM2.5 Particulate Levels Summer of 2004, Fairbanks, AK

    DEC issued Air Quality Alerts and Advisories between June 28 and September 17, 2004. The Fairbanks / Interior area received the first alerts. The alerts were later issued statewide as harmful levels of smoke drifted over larger areas of the state, and new fires started in other regions. Persons with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly, and children were most at risk from particulates. Cooler, wetter weather and changing winds moved smoke out of most communities in mid-September.


    Facts from the Alaska Interagency Fall Fire Review of the 2004 Fire Season (as of May 17, 2005):

  • There were 701 total fires: 426 human caused and 275 lightning caused
  • 6,590,140 acres burned (more than 8 times the 10 year acreage average)
  • There were 5 days when more than 200,000 acres burned. The single day total of these 5 days each exceeded the yearly acreage burned in 1995, 1998, and 2001.
  • The three largest fires:
  • Boundary Fire, near Fairbanks: 537,627 acres
  • Dall City Fire, near MP 78-103 Dalton Hwy: 483,280 acres
  • Billy Creek Fire, near Dot Lake: 463,994 acres
  • Fire fighting personnel:
  • at its peak on July 17th, there were 2,711 personnel assigned throughout Alaska (1212 Alaskans and 1499 Lower 48 personnel)
  • 46 states sent firefighting resources to Alaska
  • 48 different information officers staffed the Joint Information Center during the summer. Up to 600 calls were received per day.
  • Excellent safety record for firefighters: no fatalities or critical injuries
  • Links to other information:

  • 2004 Fall Fire Review documents from the BLM Alaska Fire Service
  • Highlights for the 2004 Wildland Fire Season - National Interagency Fire Center
  • State of the Climate: Wildfires Annual 2004 - National Climatic Data Center