Firefighters over the weekend battled two wildfires off East End Road in Homer that had the potential to flare up, but caught the fires before they could spread into dry grassland at higher elevations.
They also caught a hot thermostat in another East End Road home on Friday that could have led to a structure fire.
On Saturday afternoon, Kachemak Emergency Services, Alaska Division of Forestry and Homer Volunteer Fire Department crews kept a 2-acre fire on Greenwood Road from spreading. That fire happened almost in the backyard of the KES McNeil Canyon Fire Station near Mile 12 East End Road.
On Sunday, Division of Forestry and KES firefighters also stopped a half-acre fire that flared up from an old slash burn. High winds over the weekend contributed to the fires, both caused by human activity. Both fires happened while KES responded or had to respond to medical calls.
“We got slammed on all kinds of calls,” said KES Chief Bob Cicciarella on Tuesday. “We got medical calls and a rollover accident, all at the same time on both days — a pretty wild weekend.”
The Homer-area fires came on top of other fire responses by the Kenai-Kodiak region for the Alaska Division of Forestry based in Soldotna, said Howie Kent, fire manager officer for the region. On the peninsula, forestry responded to slew of fires along the Sterling Highway. In Kodiak, crews fought a 60-acre fire on Kodiak Island. Kent said state firefighters went to 14 incidents last week.
The Greenwood Road fire got called in about 5 p.m. Saturday, June 5, after ashes from a fire pit blew into dry grass as the homeowner moved the ash in a wheelbarrow, apparently to use in a campfire pit later, Kent said.
“It was an odd thing. We’d never seen that before, but we see interesting things all the time,” he said.
Both Kent and Cicciarella credited a large green lawn the homeowner put on the Kachemak Bay or south side of his home for stopping the fire. The fire started in dry grass on the south side of the property, and 11-mph winds from the southwest blew the fire toward the home and Greenwood Road. Cicciarella said the wind laid the smoke down and three flames 6- to 8-feet in front.
“It served as a nice fire break around the property there, but it had potential,” Kent said. “The bigger green strips you can have around your home, the better.”
Under the federal, state and local Firewise Communities USA program, homeowners are encouraged to take steps like putting in grassy lawns and other fire breaks around their home to keep fires from spreading.
“That helped save the main house,” Cicciarella said. “… I’ve got to give him kudos for the way he had his home ‘firewised.’”
He also said the fire break not only kept the fire from threatening the owner’s home, but from jumping Greenwood Road and heading into brush to the north.
“It would have been hard to catch if it had done that,” Cicciarella said. “That one turned out well.”
Forestry and KES crews responded in brush trucks, a fire engine and a tanker-pumper. HVFD also provided a tanker-pumper crew that helped set up water lines. A helicopter and crew did six bucket drops of 230 gallons a drop to help stop the fire, Kent said, drawing water from a pond about a mile away.
“I want to give those guys a plug,” Kent said of KES. “They were extremely instrumental in stopping that fire, as was Homer Fire,” Kent said. “… It was a good team effort all the way around.”
Firefighters had the Greenwood Road fire contained on Saturday evening. Cicciarella said that just as his crews started to release the HVFD firefighters and pick up hose, they got a call to Vozenesenka for a vehicle rollover with injuries. Medics responded and took one victim to South Peninsula Hospital with injuries.
Sunday’s fire happened on the afternoon of June 6 when winds kicked up a fire from an old slash burn near Canyonview Road past Mile 20 East End Road. That fire got into deadfall along a ravine. That burn pile had nonorganic material in it, Kent said. The landowner burned material they should not have as they did not have a burn permit and they did not completely extinguish the fire, Kent said.
Kent reminded landowners that during fire season burn permits are required and that permit holders have to follow guidelines. That includes calling each day they burn to check weather conditions.
“The biggest thing after they get their burn … is remaining in attendance. If they remain in attendance until the fire is cold to the touch, 99.9% of the time their fire does not escape — it’s an non-issue,” Kent said.
The Greenwood Road fire was near another call KES responded to last week, a report on Friday of a hot thermostat for in-floor heating at a Sandra Street home. In that incident, Cicciarella said a surge after a power outage apparently caused a thermostat for an in-floor heating system to heat up so that it was red hot. Fortunately, the homeowner noticed the issue and turned off the circuit breaker.
Kent said the Division of Forestry is investigating both fires for possible violations of wild land fire regulations and statutes. Last year the state updated those laws, and investigators now have the ability to write a bail-schedule citation to individuals out of compliance with regulations.
He noted that on top of fines, landowners also can be liable for fire suppression costs. He said those costs can add up quickly when considering things like helicopter flight time at $5,000 an hour.
Reach Michael Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.