- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

Thousands of lightning strikes across Alaska sparked 38 new fires in the scorched state, and 85 blazes spread over 195 square miles.

There were nearly 4,300 lightning strikes from Friday night to Saturday morning, which is the most the state has seen this year, said Alaska Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry. Many of the new fires were north and west of Fairbanks, in areas that tend to be hotter and drier over the summer, he said.

“They’re pretty much all over the state,” Mowry said. “A lot of them were north of the Alaska Range, where haven’t had a lot of activity yet…Given the dry conditions, it doesn’t take much to start a fire.”

Fire crews are already working 16 hours a day, which has been taking a toll on the 2,000 personnel from Alaska and the lower 48 states that have been helping out, Mowry said. Some of the new fires will be left to burn, because they’re in remote areas and not threatening any structures, but crews will fight some of the new fires, he said.

“Our resources are stretched thin as it is,” Mowry said. “As your resources get stretched thinner, your initial attack response sort of suffers.”

A large wildfire in the Willow area north of Anchorage, the heart of Alaska’s dog mushing community, was 15 percent contained Saturday. The fire spanned 11 square miles and had destroyed 26 homes, but residents were returning to the area.

Another blaze on the Kenai Peninsula that spanned 12 miles and destroyed 11 homes and was not contained Saturday afternoon.

Crews are using air retardant and “water scooper” planes that land on the surfaces of lakes, scoop up a pool of water and then pour it over nearby flames.

“We have a lot of lakes to scoop water out of, fortunately,” Mowry said.

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