Dale Anderegg (in yellow), Lorraine Spady, Nathan Skidmore and Dan White finish removing a protective tarp from the Alaska Division of Forestry's fire danger sign in Soldotna last week. Forestry officials warn that dry grass and windy spring weather should leave residents cautious with fire.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
At least two small brush fires have already flared up on the Kenai Peninsula this spring.
Sharon Rousch, a fire prevention officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry, spends each summer trying to spread the word that fire danger on the Kenai Peninsula is always something to be aware of. This spring she said she's trying to get the word out especially early, as dry and sometimes breezy conditions have combined to turn the forest floors and open fields of the area into a virtual blanket of fuel waiting to be ignited.
Two grass fires have been reported on the peninsula, one near Homer that jumped from a burn pile last week, and another near the Soldotna city limits toward Sterling on Saturday that had to be quickly contained by a police officer with a fire extinguisher.
Although melting snow appears to make the ground wet, Rousch said dead grass leftover from last summer is already plenty dry.
"The surface fuels are what carry the fire until the ground dries out," she said.
The Division of Forestry on Thursday put up its familiar Sterling Highway fire danger sign, which informs passing motorists of the level of danger on the Kenai Peninsula at any given time. Spring isn't usually thought of as a bad time for fires, but dry land combined with periodic windy periods can easily present the right conditions for a fire.
Burn piles can be especially troublesome. People often don't have the right tools nearby to quickly contain a moving fire.
"If you're there with a bucket of water, you're completely out of your game," she said.
When a fire gets into dried grasses, she explained, wind can move it along at an alarmingly rapid rate.
"It's amazing how fast it goes," she said. "That's what catches people."
A fire permit is not needed for burning until May 1. But fire doesn't care if you've got a permit, and Rousch said people should not underestimate fire danger just because they don't have to get a permit.
"It's not the burn permit that prevents the fire from escaping," she said.
The best thing people can do to prevent fires, she said, is use common sense. Fire breaks should be well maintained, burning should be kept to a minimum when the wind is blowing and appropriate fire containment tools should be kept on hand at all times.
"You have to be sure you're going to be able to put it out with the equipment you have," she said.
Rousch said fire danger overall is expected to be about average which means people need to be constantly vigilant. Rousch said people should check weather reports daily when burning. Another resource she suggested is on the Internet at www.firewise.org. The Firewise site gives information to people about keeping their homes and property safe and fire-free a goal Rousch hopes everyone on the peninsula has this fire season. In fact, she suggested the best time for burning may have already passed.
"You should really try to do all of your large pile burning in the wintertime," she said.
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