Approximately 9,000 residents of the Fairbanks North Star Borough lack household fire protection. The situation leaves these residents dangerously exposed, and it isn't likely to change for most any time soon.
The logistical hurdles, relatively high expense and uncertain politics surrounding efforts to extend the boundaries of the borough's existing fire service districts were covered in last Sunday's issue of the News-Miner.
Here's a short recap: When blazes erupt in or around homes lacking fire protection, residents shouldn't waste time calling 911. They are essentially on their own.
The state will do what it can to suppress wildfires threatening property. In some cases, an effort may be made to respond to fires outside fire protection areas when lives are known to be at stake.
But that's slim comfort. More often than not, when fires strike homes outside the station coverage areas, at best a state crew will be standing by to protect the nearby woods while folks are left watching their worldly goods burn.
Homeowners and tenants living outside fire protection areas are foolish not to prepare in advance to help themselves.
As the tragedy that claimed two lives in Anchorage recently demonstrated anew, smoke alarms are the first line of defense -- sounding an early warning to put out a spreading fire, or flee burning hallways while it's still possible.
Stocking the house with fire extinguishers, strategically placed near wood stoves, furnaces, kitchens, bedrooms and likely escape routes, is another fundamental step, particularly in areas located beyond reach of emergency assistance.
Clearing away trees and other shrubs in close proximity to the house provides a buffer zone that may come in handy shielding the structure from a spreading wildfire. Don't wait until flames are visible in the nearby treetops to get out the chain saw.
Installing a sprinkler system, supported by a sufficient water or chemical fire-retardant reserve, is expensive, but remains a sound investment in homes lacking access to organized fire protection.
We Alaskans are known for taking pride in our self sufficiency, and willingness to voluntarily extend a helping hand in emergencies.
When it comes to quelling fires at home, however, that confidence is sadly misplaced if it isn't matched by advance preparations.
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