[like coal and peat]?” Stromquist said. “And there’s no obvious combustion mechanism, either.”
Pat Sanders, a ranger at Yukon-Charley based in Eagle, said she heard a distant explosion in late September 2012, right before people smelled bitter smoke. Stromquist checked for a record of lightning strikes at that time and found none.
Anupma Prakash is an expert on coal fires who has studied them around the world, including Healy. Interested in the Windfall Mountain Fire, the professor at UAF’s Geophysical Institute encouraged graduate student Christine Waigl and undergraduate intern Kristen Stilson to review satellite images of Windfall Mountain. They found that during the five years before the fire, the mountain had higher temperatures than the surrounding hills and boreal forest.
“The area has had elevated temperatures for a while, which makes it easier for a fire to start,” Prakash said.
Stromquist has shared information on the mountain with a half dozen geologists, including two men who wrote their Ph.D. theses on rocks of the area. The meeting of minds might solve the mystery of Windfall Mountain. Or it might not, she said.
“Science is like that — you can’t tie it up with a bow most of the time.”
Since the late 1970s, the director of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has supported the writing and free distribution of this column to news media outlets. This is Ned Rozell’s 20th year as a science writer for the Geophysical Institute.