Fire risks still high

Disaster potential sparks holiday weekend warning

Posted: Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Despite suspending burn permits Saturday because of the recent warm, dry and windy weather, state and local firefighters battled six wildfires over the weekend that were caused when people lit slash, according to the Alaska Division of Forestry.

Two more fires erupted when sparks escaped from a campfire and a burn barrel, activities not prohibited under the suspension.

With the Memorial Day weekend approaching, fire officials are urging extreme caution when camping. Area rivers are expected to draw thousands to the first big weekend of fishing.

"The fire danger is really high right now," said Scott Elmer, assistant fire chief of the Homer Volunteer Fire Department. "I want to caution everyone. With campfires, make sure then can't escape and are completely out before you leave them. With burn barrels, have an area of dirt around them and a small-mesh screen."

By 3 p.m. Monday, the Kenai-Kodiak Area Division of Forestry had responded to 13 wildfires in the past week, said state fire prevention officer Sharon Roesch.

The spate of fires on the Kenai Peninsula this past week is clear evidence of the mounting fire danger common this time of year. The worst period of the year for fire typically occurs during the relatively dry weather common during June before full green-up. This season, the threat has risen somewhat earlier than in most years, and forestry officials are pre-positioning equipment and asking firefighters to stay ready.

"This weather is expected to continue and the wind is going to pick up," said Crista Cady with the division.

Among the pieces of gear on standby is a C-130 air tanker, two 8-person loads of smoke jumpers and an air attack plane for coordinating suppression aircraft at the Kenai Municipal Airport retardant site, according to a forestry press release.

The latest fire update issued Monday at 3:30 p.m. noted that a 1-acre fire northwest of Flat Lake on Halbouty Road, reported just before noon Sunday by an ERA Aviation commercial pilot, was still smoldering Monday morning. A Nondalton fire crew was on scene mopping up.

The following small fires have been put out, but the burn areas are on what is known as monitor status. That means fire crews have left, but the areas will be checked regularly to catch any flare-ups, Cady said.

At 5 p.m. Sunday, a fire of less than an quarter acre was discovered on Forerunner Street west of the Kenai Spur Highway to the north of Knight Drive. An unattended burn barrel was blamed, fire officials said.

Fire-fighting helicopters and multiple engines from the Kenai-Kodiak Area Division of Forestry and Central Emergency Services responded to a quarter-acre brush fire on Birch Hill Drive north of Longmere Lake between Soldotna and Sterling late Sunday afternoon.

Eight acres near Anchor Point have been burned in what fire officials have labeled the Augusta Lane Fire. According to the division, that fire was mistakenly reported as out in a Sunday press release. It continues under monitor status.

A fire in Bear Cove on the south side of Kachemak Bay, first reported early Saturday, burned four acres in an area of large, dead and downed beetle-killed spruce. It, too, was erroneously reported as being out in the Sunday release. It remains under monitor status.

A fire weather watch has been issued by the National Weather Service for the western Kenai Peninsula, with winds from the northeast at 15 to 20 mph and relative humidity between 15 and 22 percent. Local temperatures Monday reached into the low 80s and are expected to remain high throughout the week.

The fire suspension will remain in place until further notice, forestry officials said.

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