Everyone wanted to do something to express appreciation for the more than 700 first responders that arrived from all over the country and joined forces in a well-coordinated attack on one of the most threatening wildfires to communities of the Central Peninsula in recent history. “At each of the community meetings I attended people talked about their desire to thank the firefighters, then at the SoHi meeting Governor Parnell leaned over to me and said someone should do something and I said I’m on it. So I called around and got some folks together and a few days later we had a great turn out for a community appreciation barbeque where we fed some 1,500 meals,” explained State Senator Peter Micciche. A call went out from the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce and more than 50 volunteers showed up Sunday afternoon at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex to prepare, cook and serve at the event. “They risked their lives to save our homes and when I asked who is here tonight that has lost a primary residence to the fire, not a single hand went up because not a single primary residence was lost and that didn’t happen by accident it happened because those men and women were out in the flames protecting our homes getting ahead of the fire and making fuel breaks. It gave us a chance to get up close and shake some sooty hands of some very brave folks and it was one of the most moving events I’ve been to,” said Micciche.
Bruce Bartley a fire and rescue volunteer from Chugiak said he felt pretty good about the overall effort, “We hate losing structures. My partner and I were assigned to structure protection and we worked hard at it. I drove an initial attack engine down here Thursday from Palmer and jumped right in the middle of it. There was a lot of coordination and many moving parts working together but in the end I told my partner as much as we hate to lose structures there is no house or tree that is worth dying for and with this fire we were able to accomplish both with no loss of primary structures and only one minor twisted knee,” said Bartley. Emma from Missoula, Montana has been a Hot Shot wildfire fighter for four seasons and had been on the Funny River lines for ten days before coming to the barbeque, “I’ve been on some pretty bad ones but never had a community throw a barbeque feed to say thank you before, this made us feel like rock stars.”
The barbeque was planned during shift changes so that crews were arriving at different times and every time a new crew came into the sports complex to line up for dinner a spontaneous standing ovation broke out.
The man who led the 700 some firefighters was Alaska Interagency Incident Commander Rob Allen told the crowd that his team couldn’t have been successful without the support from Central Emergency Services, the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Kenai Fire Departments and State Troopers who assisted with the evacuations. Andy Loranger Kenai National Wildlife Refuge manager said, “This incident management team is an outstanding group and the firefighters are so highly trained and skilled that we really appreciate everything they have done. We all appreciate the cooperation from the community and this event meant a lot to each person assigned to this fire.”