Public safety officials are bracing for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend in hopes of keeping Kenai Peninsula residents and visitors safe during the holiday.
Forestry officials are on alert for wildfires, Alaska State Troopers will be monitoring a planned beach party for young people, and U.S. Coast Guard and Fish and Wildlife Protection Troopers will be on the lookout for potential boating safety problems.
"We're in high fire danger," said Sharon Roesch, fire prevention officer for the state Division of Forestry at its area office in Soldotna.
"With any wind at all, we will be in extreme fire danger," she said.
Because of low winter snowfall totals on the peninsula and little rain so far this spring, extremely dry conditions have caused forestry officials to suspend all open-burning permits, which normally allow people to burn brush and yard debris in burn piles.
"People can have campfires," Roesch said, but the fires are restricted to established barbecue grates that are completely cleared of brush or dry grasses in the surrounding area.
She also reminds people that all fireworks are prohibited in the entire Kenai Peninsula Borough. In addition to firecrackers and bottle rockets, the ban includes such fire-producing devices as sparklers and burning snakes.
"The state Division of Forestry and local fire departments on the Kenai Peninsula have suppressed six wildfires this spring that were caused by children lighting fires," Roesch said in a printed statement.
In such cases, while the child usually is required to undergo an interview with an enforcement officer, the parents of the child may be held responsible for the cost of putting out a fire and for damage to private property.
"Suppression costs for small fires range from less than $100 to several hundred dollars," Roesch said. "A large fire could cost millions of dollars to extinguish."
She said people on the peninsula are being careful during the current dry period.
"It's helped keep our fires down. The public has been very aware of the fire danger."
In addition to their statewide safety campaign encouraging motorists to buckle their seat belts, state troopers are keeping an eye on a big party being planned by young people on the beach near Anchor Point this weekend.
"This has become an annual event," said Capt. Tom Bowman, commander of the trooper detachment based in Soldotna.
"Last year, we dumped a lot of alcohol on the ground and confiscated a lot of marijuana, and we understand the young people are planning to bring paint ball guns and pepper spray to attack troopers who respond to trouble there this year," he said.
"Parents need to know this is not going to be a big social event. It will be dangerous. There might be people getting raped and people might be getting hurt.
"My advice to parents is know where your kids are going this Memorial Day," Bowman said.
Fish and Wildlife Protection Troopers and the Coast Guard will be conducting boating safety checks Saturday, Sunday and Monday in Homer and Whittier, according to Trooper Lt. Steve Bear.
The Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary also plan a courtesy vessel check from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday in the Fred Meyer parking lot.
In an attempt to prevent boating accidents from occurring, officers will be checking boats for personal flotation devices and other required safety equipment including signal flares and fire suppression devices, Bear said.
Inspectors will also be looking for current boat registration documents, he said.
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