Peninsula residents asked to celebrate summer with care

Posted: Friday, May 23, 2003

The long three-day weekend that lies ahead has all the ingredients for the perfect beginning to summer. School is out. The weather forecast is fair and predictions for this weekend's king salmon opener are even better water conditions are great for catching fish and there are plenty of fish entering the streams.

The irony is the recipe for fun also is a recipe for disaster, if people aren't careful.

Fire officials are pleading with those on the Kenai Peninsula to be extra careful. Fire danger is high. As the weather continues to be warm and dry, the threat of a catastrophic fire is real, officials with the state Division of Forestry have warned.

The open burning suspension is still in place on the peninsula for permit areas, and burning is discouraged in all areas of the peninsula. Extreme caution must be used for campfires and approved burn barrels. No one should light any fire during windy conditions.

Forestry officials also are asking parents to have heart-to-heart discussions with their children about fire and its dangers. The Division of Forestry and fire departments on the peninsula have extinguished six wildfires this spring that were caused by children lighting fires. The average age of the kids involved with those fires is 11 years old.

Parents need to know they may be held responsible for payment of fire suppression costs incurred by fire agencies and damage to private property, if their child starts a fire. The costs for small fires range from less than $100 to several hundred dollars. A large fire could cost millions of dollars to extinguish, says the Division of Forestry.

Everyone is reminded that fireworks are prohibited throughout the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

In addition to fire danger being high, there are other risks this weekend.

Troopers are asking parents to make sure they know where there kids are going. A party for young people on the beach near Anchor Point has law enforcement officers concerned for the safety of those who may attend.

"People need to know this is not going to be a big social event. It will be dangerous," Alaska State Trooper Capt. Tom Bowman warned earlier this week. Last year, troopers dumped alcohol on the ground and confiscated a lot of marijuana.

On the road, law enforcement officers are scheduled to be out in force this weekend. Among the things they'll be watching for are motorists and their passengers who are not wearing seat belts and children who are not properly restrained in appropriate safety seats; drivers who appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol; and drivers who are speeding, making unsafe lane changes and following too closely.

Other areas of concern are people driving while fatigued and those impeding the flow of traffic.

For many people, the long weekend will be their first trip out on the water since they put their boat in storage for the winter. No matter how warm the day may seem, Alaska's waters are unforgiving. Everyone who will be on or near the water is encouraged to wear a personal flotation device.

That PFD won't do anyone a bit of good if it's under the seat of the boat and someone ends up in the water without it.

Just as its unwise to drink and drive, its unwise to drink and operate a boat.

Anglers are reminded that getting skunked isn't the worst thing that could happen to them after a long day of fishing. Getting hooked or hooking someone are real dangers at the peninsula's popular fishing spots. Protective eye wear and hats are recommended, as are big doses of common sense and courtesy.

A Kasilof teenager's recent encounter with a brown bear should serve as a reminder that the peninsula is a dangerous place. Always be on the lookout for the animals we share this place with. One can't be too watchful.

Most tragedies can be averted by simple things not playing with matches, not drinking and driving, buckling up, using the buddy system.

However you celebrate the beginning of summer, do so safely. Our hope is no one will become a statistic this weekend.

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