Hot topic: Extinguish that burn pile

Posted: Friday, May 16, 2008

Let's face it, it hasn't been much of a spring on the Kenai Peninsula.

Sure, there's more daylight, but where the heck is the sun?

It could be worse, though, especially in light of what Mother Nature is dishing out in other parts of the world -- cyclones, tornadoes, earthquakes and storms.

Still, she's making her presence felt with some windy days. Unfortunately, that wind is kicking up some burn piles and keeping area firefighters on their toes.

On Monday, Kenai and Nikiski were called out to extinguish brush piles. One had been smoldering for a month, the other for a week. It just goes to show you how dangerous fire is.

Spring is one of the more susceptible times for grass fires, and this year's lack of moisture and gusty winds create a perfect recipe for disaster.

"It's about this time of year that we start to get very nervous," Kenai Fire Chief Mike Tilly told us. "I would not be surprised if Forestry puts out a burn ban pretty soon."

Remnants of snow, higher humidity and some showers may keep a burn ban at bay -- for now, according to Alaska Division of Forestry Fire Prevention Officer Sharon Roesch.

Slash piles are popular this time of year because people are eager to get on with building, clearing or cleaning. However, the first step should be getting a burn permit. They're not always required, but depending on conditions, they might be. Still, if your fire gets out of control and wreaks havoc and permits are required, you're looking at some serious consequences.

Know the rules and follow them: Contact the fire service agency for your area, whether it's Kenai, Nikiski, Central Emergency Services or Forestry -- and ask about a permit. Each permit explains the procedure and requirements for that area, such as whether burn barrels are allowed or if you can burn trash, tires, etc.

Make sure all fires are well away from structures, storage or wooded areas. It doesn't take much for a fire to get away from you with a small gust of wind, no matter how careful you are.

This time of year also is a good time to take a look at your property to see if it's "FireWise."

FireWise is a program that promotes creating defensible space on an individual and communitywide level. This year, some grant-funded FireWise teams will make house calls across the peninsula to help property owners and communities set priorities and protect what's theirs.

Residents can call Forestry at 260-4262 to sign up for a home assistance visit. Team members will call and schedule a time and can work in the evenings and on weekends, if needed. In addition, FireWise teams can make presentations to community groups, clubs and organizations, if requested. In other words, the team's services go a long way in helping us protect our homes and neighborhoods.

We're pretty good at looking out for one another on the peninsula. And by using common sense, following the rules and taking advantage of programs like FireWise, we can be even better at it.

It may not bring the sun out, but it may help keep the dark clouds away.

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