Smokey Bear makes a surprise visit to Soldotna Elementary School on Friday to present Haiden Perkins, right, with a fire prevention poster contest award. Perkins won a $500 savings bond, a pizza party for her class and a ride in a fire truck for winning the contest in conjunction with Gov. Frank Murkowski's proclaimed wildland Fire Prevention Day.
Photo by Layton Ehmke
Accidental forest fire is a plight ardently recognized on the Kenai Peninsula due to the amplified danger of dry, volatile Canada blue grasses this time of year and continuing spruce beetle killed trees.
Wildfires are off to an earlier than normal start this year due to sunny days and warm temperatures. It's these factors that have set the fire season in motion, according to Division of Forestry Regional Fire Management Officer John See.
"We had problem fires in April and that's kind of unheard of, so we're, of course, watching the weather forecast and being prepared as needed," he said.
Though snowfall was close to average this year, the quick snowmelt compounded the likelihood of forest fires.
The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center reports 112 fires statewide have burned 8,212 acres already this year.
According to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Fire Management Officer Doug Newbould, 99 percent of forest fires are accidental and ignite along highways where humans are most active. He said the continuing goal of educating the peninsula population about unwanted fires is noteworthy.
"We recognize the value of natural forest fires. There's a difference between fires accidentally started by people and fires started by lighting, naturally. It's important to manage that danger and educate people about fire safety," Newbould said.
A goal of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is to monitor wildland fires and allow them to burn for the benefit of wildlife while suppressing wildland fires closest to people and property.
To that end, the department conducted a poster contest to educate young people about how to prevent and react to forest fires.
Haiden Perkins, a Quest student at Soldotna Elementary School, drew the winning poster, stressing the fundamentals of protecting property from forest fires. Perkins' childhood has been heavily laced with fire awareness.
"My dad's a firefighter he puts out fires and helps people," she said. "Being the daughter of a firefighter probably helped out. We came up with some ideas about what people need to learn."
Perkins' mother, Sheri, said Haiden has seen fire safety puppet shows dozens of times and can sing songs on every subject of fire safety.
"The wildland fire topic was something that was newer to her," Sheri said. "She has wisdom beyond her years."
Haiden's teacher Gail Moore said the class participated in lively discussions about fire safety and conducted two weeks of research before making posters.
Haiden's poster will be duplicated 500 times and displayed on buses and promotional publications.
Fourth-grader and poster contest contestant Dillon Jensen relayed the relationship between forest fires and wildlife in his artwork.
"There are some animals that really like forest fires and others that don't. Shrews don't like them because predators like red-tail hawks can see them in short grass. Moose don't like them because it burns willows that's their favorite food," Jensen said.
Newbould and a crew of firefighters gave Haiden and her class a surprise visit on Wildfire Prevention Day on Friday. The crew brought pizza for the class and Haiden enjoyed a ride in a fire truck with engine Capt. Bill Cartwright, who said the poster winner was "jazzed" about the cruise around the block. Smokey Bear made an appearance, as well. Haiden had no idea she had won the contest.
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