Eighty-seven active wildfires are burning in Alaska -- a number that's unprecedented for May. Meteorologists say the smoke will only get thicker in the next few days.
This Memorial Day weekend has had some beautiful weather for a picnic -- but it's not just barbecues throwing up smoke.
"There's several fires around the Interior within a hundred miles of Fairbanks that are all growing very rapidly, and they're all having significant resources put on them," said the National Weather Service's Mike Richmond.
Smoky skies are making their way across the state. For outdoor enthusiasts it's an annoyance, but for firefighters it spells trouble on the horizon.
"We're running in drought conditions with very low fuel moistures, with this dry, warm weather on top of that -- and that's making the fire situation so much worse," Richmond said.
Resources are stretched thin. The state elevated its preparedness level to 4, on a five-point scale.
"Planning level 5 is the all-out worst-case scenario, and so planning level 4 is very serious," Richmond said. "And this early in the season, that's very unusual."
Firefighters are already battling 16 fires, and more keep popping up every day.
"We had 580 lightning strikes across the state (Sunday) -- these are all lightning strikes here," Richmond said, displaying weather activity on a monitor.
Meteorologists expect the number of daily lightning strikes in Alaska to more than double in the coming days.
"Certainly in the next week, it looks like there is going to be a lot more fire activity," Richmond said. "There's going to be a gradual cooldown in Anchorage and throughout the Interior over the next week, but it will still be warm enough and dry enough for fire activity."
The Eagle Trail fire in eastern Alaska has now burned over 8,600 acres, while the Turquoise Lake fire southeast of McGrath is estimated at 60,000 acres. And Alaska's largest fire, the Toklat fire southwest of Nenana, is now over 100,000 acres.
Fire officials say there are no structures in any immediate danger. There will be a public meeting Tuesday night in Nikolai for village residents who are concerned about the Turquoise Lake fire. Officials have yet to set a time for the meeting.
Alaska's fire season is blazing ahead at full speed, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Many people may not want the sunshine to switch to rain -- but for firefighters it will make all the difference.
Meteorologists say to cool fire conditions, the state will need at least a quarter-inch of rain, and the cooler temperatures and wet weather will need to stick around for a week or two.
Contact Jackie Bartz at firstname.lastname@example.org