As Kenai Peninsula residents head into a Fourth of July weekend lacking the usual community revelry, officials are urging those celebrating the holiday on their own to take safety precautions.
“We’re still in the middle of wildland fire season, so let’s all do our part to prevent any fire starts,” Brenda Ahlberg, public information officer for the Kenai Peninsula Borough, said Thursday.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, officially sanctioned events for July 4 — including the parades in Kenai, Seward and Homer and the Mount Marathon Race in Seward — have been canceled. Ahlberg said that anyone looking to gather in celebration on Saturday should follow the recommendations issued by Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services regarding large gatherings.
Those include practicing social distancing, wearing face masks, washing hands and surfaces and staying home when sick.
The threat of fire is also one to be aware of during the typically fireworks-heavy holiday.
Fireworks are illegal in unincorporated communities within the borough under Borough Code 10.18, as well as in the cities of Kenai and Soldotna.
Fireworks are also illegal on National Park lands such as the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and on State Forestry lands.
Tim Mowry with the state’s Division of Forestry reminded Alaskans that a suspension of all burn permits is still in effect for the Kenai Peninsula, so large brush fires and burn barrels are prohibited, but small campfires are still allowed.
“Everyone should be focused on having a safe holiday,” Mowry said on Thursday.
Because of the current COVID-19 outbreak in Seward, gatherings of 20 or more people are currently prohibited. Seward residents are being strongly encouraged to limit their use of fireworks this weekend.
“We would like to mitigate any kind of injury or fire hazard this year,” Seward City Clerk Brenda Ballou said on Thursday. “People are on their own when it comes to celebrating, but please, whatever you do, be safe.”
Similarly, the city of Homer has not issued any permits for fireworks this year. Homer’s public information officer, Jennifer Carroll, asked residents to stay vigilant. Even though the Homer Chamber of Commerce canceled both the parade and the Homer Halibut Derby for this year, Carroll said she anticipates a lot of travelers coming down to celebrate on Kachemak Bay.
Outdoor events are safer than indoor ones, Carroll said. She said small groups are the safest, and people should stay 6 feet apart as much as possible in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Carroll said that she would be following her own advice when it comes to celebrating.
“What am I doing for the Fourth?” Carroll said. “I’m going to come home, have a small fire in my backyard — less than 3 feet in diameter of course — take a breath and enjoy a moment of quiet.”