Earlier this week, the Clarion reported that wildland fire officials are expecting to see normal fire activity through April and May, as compared with the early start to wildfire season that agencies were preparing for at this time last year.
However, just because they are no indicators of higher-than-normal fire danger doesn’t mean that the risk of a wildfire is nonexistent.
In fact, the Alaska Division of Forestry reported six small wildfires in Southcentral Alaska this past week, five in the Mat-Su area and one along the Seward Highway just south of Anchorage. Though the fires were quickly extinguished, they illustrate just how quickly a little sunshine and a steady breeze — conditions we’ve had on the central Kenai Peninsula over the past several days — can dry things out once the snowcover is gone.
According to Forestry, four of the five fires in the Mat-Su were sparked by exhaust from a backfiring pickup truck that caught grass on fire; the other was a grass fire involving hay bales. The cause of the fire along the Seward Highway is under investigation.
There have been a few small fires in this area, too, including one that started from sparks from a welder.
The Kenai Peninsula made it through 2016 without a major wildfire, but the 2015 Card Street fire and the 2014 Funny River Horse Trail fire are still fresh in our minds. While there’s a chance of rain in the forecast in the coming days, we urge peninsula residents and visitors to use caution when burning, whether it’s a small campfire during an early season excursion, or a pile of yard debris that’s ready to be disposed of.
Take into consideration these fire safety recommendations from Forestry:
— Watch for vegetation on or touching hot parts of the engine or exhaust of an ATV or off-road vehicle that can cause a fire. Be vigilant if riding in a grassy area. The same caution goes for lawnmowers and chainsaws.
— Don’t use barbecue grills on a grass surface and dispose of ashes or coals in a safe place (i.e. fireproof container) when done cooking.
— Make sure your burn barrel is approved (forestry.alaska.gov/burn/) or you must obtain a burn permit. Be certain items are completely burned and do not let the fire smolder. Do not leave an active burn barrel unattended.
— Keep campfires small (under 3 feet in diameter) and in a spot where the fire cannot spread. Select a spot on gravel, sand or bare soil well away from trees, moss, brush and dry grass. Never leave a campfire unattended. Make sure fires are completely out by drowning them with water and stirring them with a stick until they are cold to the touch.
— Conditions are dry enough that a discarded cigarette butt in grass or vegetation could start a fire. Extinguish any cigarette fully before discarding.
— Avoid areas where sparks and/or discharge of hot burning metal from cutting, grinding or welding can ignite anything flammable.
— Permits are required for debris burning and burning is not allowed when a burn suspension is in place. If burning is allowed, permit holders are required to follow the safe burning practices listed on their permit. Never leave a burn pile unattended and have water and tools to keep the fire in check. Call your local forestry office at 907-260-4269 or go online at forestry.alaska.gov/burn to see if burning is allowed in your area.
— Using firearms with tracer rounds can start a fire in dry vegetation, as can ricochets from steel core shells on rocks or metal.
— Trailer safety chains dragging on or hitting the road can send sparks and/or small, burning pieces of metal into grass along the side of the road or in ditches.
Fire crews have continued work on fire breaks in the area, but the best way to fight a wildfire is to takes steps to prevent one in the first place. Let’s hope for another quiet wildfire season here on the Kenai Peninsula.