State forestry division urges wildfire precautions

Posted: Friday, March 18, 2011

Despite the cold temperatures, Alaska's Division of Forestry is asking Kenai Peninsula residents to start taking wildfire precautions.

Sharon Roesch, from the division, said fires have already burned in the Matanuska-Susitna and Fairbanks areas.

"It doesn't need to be warm to have a fire -- just dry," Roesch said.

The earliest fire in recent memory on the Peninsula was an Anchor Point fire on March 12, 2003, she said. The temperature that day was in the single digits, and about 127 acres burned. By St. Patrick's Day that year, six more fires had burned.

The minimal snow pack this year and relatively dry weather means it could take just a week of above-freezing temperatures to set off a grass fire, Roesch said.

State forestry encourages land clearing in the fall and planting in the spring to create a greenbelt that is more fire-resistant than brush piles or dry patches of grass.

Roesch said that anyone who wants to burn a brush pile should do it sooner rather than later.

"If they plan to burn grass, (they) should do so in patches as the snow goes out instead of waiting for the field to be entirely snow free," she said. Roesch also said it's important to attend the fire until it goes out, even in cold weather.

Roesch's other tips for spring burns include making sure wood is dry and free of dirt so that it burns efficiently, notifying the local fire service so that they're aware of the burn -- and not alarmed by any smoke -- and complying with burn permit requirements.

The division requires permits beginning April 1, but Kenai, Homer and Seward require city-issued permits year round.

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