While the recent cool, damp weather has reduced the fire danger on the Peninsula from extreme to moderate, firefighters at the Alaska Division of Forestry Kenai/Kodiak station remind everyone that the wild fire season is far from over in Alaska. “Our job is to keep everybody safe, investigate and do what we can to put wildfires out when they occur,” said Fire prevention officer Darren Finley. Wednesday, July 3rd a nationwide “Operational Pause in Remembrance” was called by the National Interagency Fire Center to honor and remember the nineteen Hotshot firefighters who recently perished, “The wildland fire community and the nation, deeply mourns the loss of nineteen firefighters from Prescott Fire Department’s Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew. Even as we mourn this tragic loss we must also remember and honor the other firefighters who have perished in the line of duty on other wildland fires this year,” said Bill Fletcher NICC coordinator in a news release.
The ten minute Operational Pause was observed locally at the Alaska Division of Forestry and in an interview Suppression Foreman Patrick Quiner told the Dispatch how the local community can help and support the families of the nineteen who were lost, “It gives us all pause as we realize our own mortality in the work we do. As we remember our fallen, we must also consider those who survive and the challenges they face in dealing with the magnitude of such loss. Agency leaders make available the kinds of counseling and peer support that can help employees work through their emotions but some wounds cut deeper, and take longer to heal, than others. A whole crew will not be easily replaced. A Hotshot crew goes everywhere and completes 80 hours of training every year before they can even start the season. If we had a wildfire here these would have been the same guys to come and assist us in protecting life and property here on the Peninsula,” said Quiner.
According to Quiner local firefighters are starting a collection to help support families of the Hotshots killed in Prescott through a national organization called the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, “It’s an organization that specifically helps firefighters and their families after tragedies like this. One of the main goals of the Wildland Firefighters Foundation is to continue the care of the families of those fallen in service. They are the driving force behind the memorial in Boise, Idaho and whenever there is a tragedy they are there for the families and then continue to help the children afterward with their needs including the emotional loss as a small child deals with their grief. They continue to help as long as they can,” said Quiner.
The Granite Mt. Hotshot Crew ranged in age from 21 to 43. Quiner encouraged anyone interested in learning more about the Foundation or how they can help to visit their website at www.wffoundation.org. And as an additional tribute to each of the brave men that perished to individually commit themselves to being meticulously careful with fire whenever enjoying the outdoors. “Any fire regardless of how small can become a problem fire and everyone of us that responds places ourselves in danger, we know that and it’s what we do, but if we don’t have to do it that’s best for all concerned,” said Quiner.
While the burn suspension has been lifted on the Peninsula, fire permits are still required and fire danger remains extreme in the northern areas of Alaska.
“The most common mistake I’ve seen in my career is people not extinguishing their fires completely after they are done with it. It needs to be cool to the touch before you walk away. For yard clean up it’s best to cover the leaves or small slash with a tarp and wait for winter to burn the debris. Yard burning can be extremely dangerous and we encourage anyone with questions to call us at the Division of Forestry,” added Darren Finley.