Burning slash piles in Kenai may be scaled back considerably in the wake of a burn last month that, through no one's fault, got out of hand and raised concern among both citizens and city council members.
A number of council members at last week's meeting said they received numerous calls from citizens concerned about smoke and a fire that might be out of control.
Kenai Fire Chief Scott Walden was quick to say that any problems resulting from the burning done between Jan. 16 and Jan. 20 were the result of unforseen changes in the weather, not human error.
Dr. Peter Hansen, a longtime Kenai resident, was burning several piles of wood contaminated with spruce bark beetles on his property located near the end of Redoubt on Forest Drive.
"The city of Kenai came to me about two years ago," Hansen said. "They wanted to log the dead wood on a portion of my property, approximately 75 acres, because it was a fire hazard."
Hansen gave 24-hour notice and a permit was issued. Permits to burn are required year-round in Kenai.
Hansen arranged for a bulldozer to push the wood into piles and placed someone on duty 24 hours a day, to watch the fires, so they would not get out of control. He and his crew began to burn on Jan. 17. On Jan. 20, the weather changed drastically. The temperature dropped 30 degrees, causing an inversion factor.
"The smoke couldn't escape," Walden said. "The weather caused the problem."
The smoke drifted toward the nearby Woodland and Inlet Woods subdivisions. Numerous people called the city to complain.
Firefighters responded to the scene and put out the last of the fire. Walden said Hansen had abided by the permit, since he did not continue to burn when the weather changed.
"If the fire had spread beyond the containment area, we would have sought restitution," Walden said. "The landowner was careful. He kept the fire within the containment area, so restitution was not sought."
Of the eight to 10 piles of wood that Hansen had sought to burn, only a few were actually burned, because the weather change made it impossible to finish the job. Hansen is concerned that the remaining piles are an enticement to vandals, who might want to burn the wood.
Walden said in the future other methods besides open burning will be used in Kenai.
"In spite of the fact that it is expensive, incinerators are going to be used more often in the future," Walden said.
"Also, we may use chipping, as well. Chipping is an efficient, cost-effective method for summer usage. It gives the general public a safe way to dispose of their contaminated wood. We discourage large-scale burning."
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