With wildfire risks high, remain vigilant

  • Thursday, May 28, 2015 4:05pm
  • Opinion

Thanks to a vigilant public and quick response from firefighters, the Kenai Peninsula has dodged a couple of bullets this spring.

But with warm, sunny and dry weather forecast for the next several days drawing more people into the great outdoors, Kenai Peninsula residents and visitors alike will need to continue to be on high alert when it comes to fire safety.

According to the Alaska Division of Forestry, the half-acre Robin Loop fire in Funny River was the largest human-caused fire reported over the Memorial Day weekend. Firefighters from Central Emergency Services and Forestry responded to quickly contain the fire, which was started from an escaped debris pile burn.

Likewise, while still under investigation, the recent Palmer Creek fire near Hope was initially reported to be caused by an abandoned campfire.

Ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, Forestry sent out a press release with a number of fire safety recommendations. The holiday weekend has come and gone, but with current conditions, the suggestions remain valid:

■ 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.

■ Fireworks are illegal on the Kenai Peninsula, and should not be used over forest or dry grass.

■ 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.

As Smokey the Bear says, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Vigilance has prevented a major wildfire on the peninsula so far this summer; please continue to use caution in the days and weeks to come.

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