Extinguishing a three-acre wildfire ignited near Anchor Point on Monday evening required 19 state and local firefighters, and is being seen by area residents as a wake-up call that the spring fire season has arrived.
Fire crews from the Anchor Point Volunteer Fire Department and the Alaska Division of Forestry responded to the wildfire along Cape Ninilchik Avenue near Anchor Point caused by an escaped grass burn.
According to a press release from the Division of Forestry, landowner Jeni Frank immediately reported the escaped fire to Emergency 911 and then watched helplessly as the fire raced onto her neighbor’s property.
The division reported another neighbor saying, “This is a real wake-up call. I need to clear around my house!”
Despite cool temperatures and partial green-up conditions, gusty winds carried the fire quickly through thick grass, torching trees in its path, the division said.
Anchor Point Fire Chief Keith Sullivan was first to arrive at what has been named the Sunshine Place Fire at about 7 p.m., and deployed a hose to douse embers on the roof of the first house in the fire’s path. Forestry sent a helicopter, four wildland engines, air retardant and smokejumpers from the Bureau of Land Management in Fairbanks.
Volunteers from the Anchor Point fire department also responded. Medics checked several people and took one to the hospital for a minor injury, Forestry reported.
Firefighters stopped the forward motion of the fire about 8 p.m. No structures were lost, but extensive mop-up was required to handle heavy fuels burning within the perimeter. Eight BLM smokejumpers remained on site throughout Monday night. The fire was declared contained Tuesday morning.
Forestry reminds residents that there must be a firebreak around an open burn. Though the weather has been cloudy in recent weeks, there has not been a lot of rain, and dead grass can dry in just a few hours and become extremely ignitable, the division said.
Contacted Tuesday afternoon, Frank said she had just rototilled her garden and was burning the raked up debris in a controlled burn when a gust of wind “came out of nowhere” and the fire spread.
“It was gone in 60 seconds. It was the most unreal thing,” she said.
Frank said her folks had “lost everything” in the Big Lake Fire several years ago, so seeing the fire jump so quickly out of control was “very, very upsetting.”
All things considered, she said, she and her neighbors are very fortunate the damage was confined to grass and trees. She said she deeply appreciated all the help she got from her neighbors and from the fire department personnel. She said everyone worked very hard to prevent damage to surrounding homes. Her daughter, Annie, suffered a fractured ankle during the event.
Sharon Roesch, of Forestry, said there was a burn permit in place, but that there had been no firebreak created around the burn. She said it was premature to conclude if the fire would generate any fines or fees. A decision would be made after the investigation is done, she said.
Roesch also noted that people aren’t often aware of just how fast a fire can spread in thick wild grasses. A 10 mph breeze, she said, can spread a fire almost faster than a person can run.
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