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5 weekend fires keep responders busy

Posted: May 23, 2012 - 8:45am  |  Updated: May 23, 2012 - 2:36pm

In spite of the persistent cloudy weather and scattered showers, the Alaska Division of Forestry on the Kenai Peninsula has responded to five wildland fires on private properties since last Friday.

Potential for fires, due to areas with accumulated dead grasses, will continue through the next two months, said Sharon Roesch, Division of Forestry fire prevention officer.

"We expect the fire risk to persist well into the rainy season," she said. "It just depends on if the area gets the normal advent of more moisture into July."

The latest fire, reported at 6:41p.m. on Monday, was located in a hard-to-reach area north of Tall Tree Road near Anchor Point. The fire burned about an acre before it was brought under control by firefighters, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

All the fires, which occurred on Friday, Sunday and Monday, ignited between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Residents caused them: two campfires, one burning grass in a garden plot, and one disposal of wood stove ashes. After the fires escaped their control, residents were endangered as they battled the flames to save their homes and to try to stop the fires' spread, according to the DNR.

Two residents were transported to the hospital on Friday, according to DNR.

Roesch emphasized residents starting fires should be prepared. Proper shoes, gloves and a method of suppression are needed.

If an accident occurs and a fire spreads, residents should call 911 immediately. The weekend fires were small because people did just that, she said.

"If the worst happens, don't battle the fire if you're not ready," Roesch said. "And don't breathe smoke."

Multiple agencies responded to the fires, including the Anchor Point volunteer fire department.

The fires spread quickly even though the relative humidity was in the 40 to 50 percent range. This fire activity illustrates the flammable nature of the dry grass fuels, which are referred to in fire behavior terms as "one-hour" fuels; they dry and become flammable within one hour. If grasses are heavily matted, the lower layers do not even receive rain. 

If the sun had come out and the humidity dropped, any of these fires could have become large, Roesch said.

To protect your home from wildfires, rake leaves and grass away from around structures and under decks and remove firewood. 

For a free FireWise visit to help identify wildfire risk to your property on the Peninsula, call 260-4260. For more information visit www.firewise.org.

An open burning suspension continues on the Kenai Peninsula after noon each day until further notice. Burning with a valid permit from Forestry is allowed between 6 a.m. and noon if all the terms and conditions listed on the permit are followed.

The danger still is present in the evening, however.

"Residents figured it was safe even though we had that closure," Roesch said. "And I just wanted to reiterate, the fire danger is there, not for every parcel. Some people have safe areas, but we need to be prudent based on the fire activity that we're seeing."

Individuals with burning permits issued by their City Fire Department or Fire Service Area must call their department for authorization to burn.

In areas where burning permits are not required, compliance with these burning restrictions is strongly advised.

The use of campfires has not been suspended by Forestry at this time, but individuals are advised to be cautious with any fires outdoors until the fire danger is reduced.

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.

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