Time to be on high alert for wildland fires

  • Saturday, May 3, 2014 6:29pm
  • Opinion

With clear blue skies and temperatures reaching into the 60s, spring has sprung on the Kenai Peninsula.

But those same conditions that have lured residents into the great outdoors also have the region’s wildland firefighting agencies on high alert.

“Due to the weather the grass has been exposed longer and had time to dry out,” Darren Finley, a state Division of Forestry fire prevention officer, told the Clarion in a recent interview. “Dry conditions are the most volatile fuel. Grass fires spread fast and can produces flames up to 10 feet high.”

In a nutshell, wildland fire season has arrived early on the Kenai Peninsula, and Forestry already has recorded 15 wildland fires on the Peninsula this year. Residents should take steps now to mitigate fire danger.

Here are a few quick FireWise ideas to help protect your home from the eventuality of an encroaching fire:

■ Clear all dead or dry vegetation from the sides of homes and replace with small plants, flowers or gravel;

■ Within 15 to 30 feet of a home, remove shrubs beneath trees, prune tree limbs and remove dead vegetation;

■ Keep a well-watered lawn trimmed to three inches or less, trees should be healthy and watered often, dispose of flammable materials on property, clear the area under stairs and decks of debris, clean roofs and gutters;

■ Keep garden hoses and fire tools like shovels or rakes readily available. Keep storage areas clean and clear of oily rags, newspapers, or other combustibles;

■ Have a fire plan — locate the nearest fire station, test smoke detectors and keep fire extinguisher current. Most importantly clean chimneys and stovepipes regularly;

■ Make sure you have an easily accessible water supply on hand for emergency situations.

You can find more FireWise program information at forestry.alaska.gov/wildland.htm.

Most wildland fires on the Peninsula are human-caused — which also means most wildland fires are preventable. Many property owners have yard debris to burn after the heavy windstorms this past winter; remember that permit is needed for open burning. Permit information and details on fire conditions may be obtained by calling 907-260-4269 or online at forestry.alaska.gov.

All fires, whether open burns or small campfires, should never be left unattended. The area around the fire should be clear, and a water supply adequate to extinguish the fire should be on hand.

Even if you’re not intending to start a fire, the current conditions call for caution. Remember, the 2007 Caribou Hills fire, which burned more than 55,000 acres and destroyed nearly 200 structures, was started when sparks from a grinder being used to sharpen a shovel ignited dry grass.

As Smokey the Bear says, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Let’s all do our part. When wildland firefighters are on high alert, the rest of us should be on high alert, too.

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