In Danger of Fire

Today’s nugget is about forest fires in the early days of the Fairbanks camp, and how the residents dealt with them. Keep in mind that in those days every tree in the Tanana Valley was a source of precious energy. There was no gas, oil, or coal—only wood. A woodpile represented not only the potential for power and heat, it also represented the labor it took to cut, move, and stack.

Dawson Daily News – July 1, 1905


The Chena Times says editorially: No, gentlemen, the mines will not be worked out before all the timber is used, but the contrary will happen. Wood is already scarce on Pedro, Fairbanks and Cleary. The supposed ranger who is to protect the ridges against fires very likely puts them out with his feet. But the Cleary people have not employed a man to protect barren ridges. What has possibly been done is that a man has been hired to look after the dry wood piled on the side of the hill, and that wood was all made dry by forest fires, and it could not be cut and delivered at six dollars a cord where it green wood.

There is not enough timber on those ridges to keep the boilers on the creek warm for one shift. The N.C. Co. shipped lumber to Fairbanks two years ago, and there was a saw mill in that city at the time. The N.A.T.&T. Co. shipped lumber to a town on the Yukon where they had a complete saw mill plant of their own. All this happened while a transportation trust is flourishing. How much cheaper will lumber be hauled when the railroad to the coast is completed? The Tanana Mines Railroad and the telegraph line are the concerns likely to be damaged by fires.

Dawson Daily News – July 4, 1905


The telegraph lines in all directions down river continue utterly demoralized. Papers are arriving from the lower river towns, and the following from the Fairbanks News will show the condition in the woods–a condition which has steadily grown worse since the date of printing.

Fairbanks, June 7. – A red rim of fire almost surrounds Fairbanks. On three sides are raging forest fires, and the sky is darkened with drifting clouds of smoke.

Across the river the fire is near enough to see the red flames spurting upward at times, and the roar can be heard from the lower end of the city. Off to the southwest the sky this afternoon was a dull red, and the sun glowed dully through the veil of smoke like a red ball.

Some fear is entertained lest prospectors and others now camping in the timber may be overtaken. The spruce timber is resinous with pitch and once a fire gets a good headway, it travels as though fed on coal oil.

Even if no loss of life results, valuable tracts of timber will be destroyed. One or two homesteads are in the track of the fire on the other side of the river. Moreover, considerable slashing was done the past year in the woods surrounding Fairbanks, and the branches and tree tops from timber used for commercial purposes furnish plenty of material upon which the flames are feeding.

There is a severe penalty for firing the forests, but the law has never been rigidly enforced in Alaska, and campers, prospectors and others have taken very little trouble in covering up their fires. It has been the custom to light fires wherever the most handy and go away and leave them burning. Homesteaders and woodsmen, too, have been none too careful in this respect. It is likely the present fires, however, will serve a purpose, and the marshal’s men will see that the law in this respect is observed.

The disturbed condition of the atmosphere may cause a rainfall tonight which will prove a great boon in the flames.

A number of outfits are now on the trail leading to the different creeks through parts of the forests on fire. There are a number of clearings, however, so that little concern is felt in their behalf. The prospectors in the heart of the woods are in the most danger.

Note: As the years passed, all the trees were cut for a few miles in all directions around Fairbanks and the surrounding gold camps. Wood was the only real source of energy and heat until the 1920s. For many years after that time, there were no mature forests that could easily burn to threaten residences in the Fairbanks area. Today, after roughly 100 years of growth, our trees are now forest fire ready. This burning history nugget has been proudly brought to you by Men’s Igloo No. 4 and Women’s Igloo No. 8 of the Pioneers of Alaska.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.