Wildfires flare up

Five area blazes reported Tuesday

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2001

Five wildland fires in the Kenai Peninsula Borough accounted for nearly half the 11 wildland fires in the state Tuesday.

The fires ranged from two half-acre blazes in Homer to a 3-acre fire near Tyonek. There were also two in the central peninsula.

"The wind is probably the big factor here," said Ric Plate, fire management officer for the Alaska Division of Forestry in Soldotna.

"Tuesday was nice, but not real nice, and humidities weren't as low as earlier in the week, but the wind was the driving factor."

A stiff southwesterly wind up to 15 mph has blown on the peninsula all week.

Wind was the reason the Tyonek fire flared up. Forestry's investigation indicates the 3-acre blaze four miles west of the western Cook Inlet village started when wind whipped up smoldering ashes from a slash fire from January.

"They thought it had burnt out, but the wind was just right," Plate said.

The fire-retardant tanker plane based in Kenai, along with a helicopter and firefighters from Palmer, worked through the night putting out that blaze.

One of two fires in Homer Tuesday was a half-acre fire caused by a snowmachine that caught on fire and then ignited nearby grass and trees and eventually consumed a home.

The other Homer fire, which was contained at less than an acre, was near Paul Banks Elementary School.

In the central peninsula, one fire at Union Lake, near Mackey Lake, was evidently caused by campers on an island who didn't put their campfire out completely.

"Smoke was reported when the fire was real small," Plate said. "We sent out our helicopter with a bucket and put it out."

The fire probably wouldn't have jumped off the island, but, he said, with the strong winds, anything is possible.

"We're being real cautious, trying to hit these fires aggressively," he said. "We're sending out quite a bit of resources."

Plate said anyone looking at his expenditures might think the division is spending a lot of money.

"But I look at it as we're saving a lot of money by keeping the fires from spreading," he said.

The extra effort the division is putting out stems from the precarious conditions that prevail. Even though the spring has been generally cooler than normal, there hasn't been much rain, and the wind is conspiring to dry things off even more.

"These fires are taking a little more effort to put out," Plate said.

A report of smoke between Kenai and Nikiski early Monday night prompted the division to send its helicopter out looking for about a half-hour. Fortunately, it turned out to be a false alarm.

"Any time we get a report of smoke, we respond," Plate said.

There was a fire east of Nikiski near Flat Lake that burned less than an acre on Tuesday. Plate said it burned more aggressively than he thought it would because of the conditions.

"I'm seeing fires growing quicker now and being harder to put out."

He said homeowners should be clearing dead and burnable debris from around their homes.

The FireWise Program recommends a 30-foot space between all buildings where there are no softwood trees or debris.

"People think that if a fire is heading their way, they can just cut down the trees then, but that doesn't work," Plate said. "We want them to try to get a defensible space around their homes before the fire starts."

While all the fires around the state reported Tuesday were human-caused, one fire, on Afognak Island, had mitigating circumstances.

It seems bears were digging in an incinerator near a logging camp there and spread burning debris all about.

It caused a 4-acre fire that was eventually put out by a fire crew from the Afognak Native Association and the logging camp.

Because of conditions, a peninsulawide burn ban, issued Tuesday morning, remains in effect until further notice.

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