Open burns suspended

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Monday, June 15, 2015 1:37pm
  • News

The Alaska Division of Forestry has suspended open burning on the Kenai Peninsula due to high fire danger. As of Monday morning, burn permits are no longer valid, and no new permits will be issued until conditions improve.

The suspension was launched following a red flag warning issued by the National Weather Service for Southcentral Alaska. The warning is in effect until 10 p.m. Monday evening for the Western Kenai Peninsula, according to the weather service.

For the past two days high temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees coupled with low humidity have caused extreme fire danger conditions on the Kenai Peninsula, said Division of Forestry Public Information Officer Andy Alexandrou. All burning except warming fires at home and burns in established rings at local campgrounds are prohibited he said.

Campfires may be not be larger than a 3-by-3-foot area, according to a Division of Forestry press release. The ban will be lifted at a later time, when conditions have significantly improved, Alexandrou said. That means waiting until things cool down or the area gets some much-needed moisture, he said.

Municipalities are mirroring Forestry’s policy.

Kenai Fire Chief Jeff Tucker said no land clearing or debris burning is allowed inside city limits. Burning is allowed in local campgrounds, and small warming and cooking fires on residential properties are allowed.

Tucker said to be extremely careful when partaking in any outdoor activity that “can cause a spark or produce heat,” such as using power tools or smokers.

Alexandrou said the Division of Forestry is asking that no fire is left unattended. Wind can pick up embers and carry them to nearby brush and spark a flame, he said.

“We want to make sure the risk factors are minimized,” Alexandrou said.

The extreme fire danger is not unique to the Kenai Peninsula.

The human-caused Sockeye Fire in Willow is “wind driven” and ballooned to 6,500 acres overnight, Alexandrou said. Wind on the Kenai Peninsula has been relatively low recently, he said.

Tucker said even the light breezes that have been present in the area pose risks.

Tuesday evening, there is a chance of thunderstorms with persistent winds for the area, Alexandrou said. In the coastal areas winds may pick up to 20 miles per hour, while gusts in Kenai may remain milder at 8 miles per hour.

Alexandrou said the most common cause of forest fires is the “lack of common sense used by the public.”

“And that’s the honest truth,” he said. “People don’t go out and start a fire on purpose.”

Negligence is often involved, Alexandrou said. Always have water and a shovel nearby to extinguish any flames or embers that escape a controlled fire, he said.

“You need to be ‘Johnny-on-the-spot’,” Alexandrou said. “Often times ‘five-minutes later’ is too late.”

Municipalities and Central Emergency Services have been briefed and are operating under the same suspension regulations, Alexandrou said.

Tucker said now is the perfect time to fire-safe homes before any fires threaten properties.

To report a wildland fire, the Division of Forestry asks the public call 911, the Area Forestry Office, or Alaska Interagency Coordination Center at 1-800-237-3633.

The number for the Kenai-Kodiak Division office is 260-4260.

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.

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