Can wildland fires burn on the treeless arctic tundra of Bering Land Bridge National Preserve? Yes! but they are usually infrequent occurrences. The maritime climate near the coast creates cool and mild summers which don't lend themselves to suitable fire conditions. However, inland from the coast, the rolling landscape of tussock and shrub tundra experiences periodic fires. These areas are somewhat drier, warmer and occasional thunder and lightning storms associated with 80F or 90F temperatures occur.
The immense sweeps of tundra are what firefighters call fuel, vegetation that can and will burn when conditions are right. Tussock tundra has tufted mounds of sedges (grass-like plants) that build up layers of loosely compacted dead leaves and roots under the plants. To a firefighter, tussock tundra means a lot of fuel. Tussock tundra is also a fine fuel which means it wets and dries out very quickly. During dry periods a lightning strike can ignite this fuel type very easily. In windy conditions it burns quickly and can be remarkably intense. On the flip side, a wetting rain shower can not only extinguish the flames in less than an hour but also the entire fire may be out in one to two days. After two weeks time vibrant green shoots will likely appear on the blackened tundra.
Wildland fire is an important driver of change in the tundra ecosystems of Bering Land Bridge. During the very warm, dry summer of 1977 over 1 million acres of mostly arctic tundra burned in Northwest Alaska, with large fires occurring throughout the Seward Peninsula and the Noatak River watershed. In Bering Land Bridge 9 fires burned over 280,000 acres.
NPS Fire Management protects human life, property, and cultural and natural resources that warrant protection. Managers also allow fire to fulfill its role as a natural process to the fullest extent possible.
Last updated: June 28, 2018