Less snow than usual fell in the area this winter. It melted early, exposing the tundra. A steady wind has dried the vegetation, and hardly any precipitation has fallen since early March. Thoman said that with no rain and abundant sunshine, the tundra has remained brown and dry. The fire still is not threatening the community of Kwethluk or any Native allotments.
The weather may be cold, but it’s too soon to get out on the river ice. The ice is forming up better than it did two years ago, when the winter was the warmest on record, but it is not freezing as fast or as well as last winter, when conditions were near-perfect.
The tragedy came after several days of dire warnings about the dangers of river travel due to an unusually early warm-up. Search and rescuers crawled onto weak ice, open water all around, to help retrieve the survivors.
Two four-wheelers carrying five men leaving Bethel broke through needle ice on the upper end of Church Slough on Sunday night. Two of the men died, while three others were treated for hypothermia in Bethel.
Drivers need to stick to marked trails on the Lower Kuskokwim River, according to the latest update from Bethel Search and Rescue’s Earl Samuelson. There is a spot in front of Oscarville that has only 9 inches of ice, which Samuelson says is too thin to drive a truck on.
Four teams had scratched as of 7 p.m. Saturday because of the icy conditions, said Kuskokwim 300 race director Madelene Reichard. "It's the same thing for all of them," Reichard said. "The dogs aren't used to running on the ice, and people were wanting to keep their dogs healthy."
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In villages like Kongiganak, communities have stopped burying their dead because, as the permafrost melts, the oldest part of their cemetery is sinking.