It's official, the Alaska Division of Forestry has announced the beginning of the fire season. Starting May 1, burn permits will be required for burning brush, grass and yard debris.
In addition, if clearing more than 40 acres of land or burning any substance that causes black smoke, toxic gases or odors that may affect nearby persons, a permit must also be obtained from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Alaska law mandates that the ground must be cleared around a fire and a person must not leave the fire unattended before it is extinguished.
Permits are necessary to make sure burning is being done safely under conformed guidelines, said John LeClair, fire management officer for the state Division of Forestry.
Forestry permits may be issued without site inspection for burning one pile of debris less than 10-feet-by-10-feet or for less than 1 acre of lawn burning.
When burning, it is important to be aware of the weather conditions affecting the fire danger. Most fires in the Kenai and Kodiak area occur between May and July.
Standard guidelines for burning include:
n Make sure there is a soil fire break around the pile. Clear area of grass and flammable material in a 10-foot radius.
n Make sure someone is attending the burn until the fire is out.
n Keep water and tools on site to control the fire.
n Don't burn during windy periods.
n Call Forestry officials each day before burning begins.
When a permit is obtained, the Division of Forestry appreciates call-in alerts to all controlled burnings in process. LeClair said the calls are logged in to avoid spending money on unneeded response
If firefighters are dispatched and no one is attending the fire, the fire will be extinguished and the landowner will be charged with the cost of the response. Criminal penalties for negligence and carelessness also are associated with open burning.
Brush piles that were burned during the winter or near wooded areas can easily turn into out-of-control wildfires. Though smoke may not be visible, fires started on tundra or moss may burn deep into the ground and smolder in roots and stumps.
This also may be a problem if people were to step on the area and burn themselves.
"Tundra burns like incense, it doesn't need a lot of oxygen and can burn slow and deep," LeClair said.
Another cause of wildfires is the burning of debris or campfires in tall, cured grasses that become flammable in the spring. The grass becomes cured when the grass is exposed to the sun and wind.
Check with authorities to see if the weather is safe for burning. If a fire is burning and the wind becomes gusty, immediately put the fire out. Call 911 or a local fire department if the fire gets out of control.
Keep brush fires small and feed them as they burn down.
Gary Hale, fire marshal at Central Emergency Services, offered some tips from FireWise, a community action program that provides information to help survive a forest fire:
n Have up to 30 feet of defensible space around a home.
This will prevent the extension of a fire and will help the fire department have a working area to protect the home.
n Prune all trees and vegetation and keep grass watered and cut around the home.
n Relocate wood and other materials no less than 30 feet from the home.
n Keep roof and gutters free of leaves, pine needles and debris.
"The roof is the most vulnerable aspect of your home," Hale said.
n Post house numbers and road signs for a quick response in time of need.
For more information about the FireWise program, contact CES or local fire departments.
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