Humans can reduce number of wildfires


Posted: Friday, June 22, 2007

The cool, wet spring may have kept fire season at bay for awhile, but the recent Sayer Road and Caribou Hills fires are not-so-gentle reminders of the ever-present danger of wildfire, particularly with the recent wave of warm, dry, windy weather.

While some fire outbreaks may be inevitable just like other natural disasters Kenai Peninsula residents have learned to live with — volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and floods, for example — for other fires, humans often are to blame. That’s why everyone needs to be particularly cautious to avoid creating a spark that could grow into an out-of-control wildfire.

One need only take a drive around the peninsula to see all the damage the spruce bark beetle has done to our home. One spark can change that scenery forever. For those living in and near the Caribou Hills, that change is in progress — to 9,000 acres and growing.

Some have been waking up to the smell of smoke since Wednesday. The high temperature-low humidity combination means there’s no end in sight to this voracious fire — not yet, anyway — despite assistance from firefighters from around the state and the overhead roar of planes and helicopters that are constantly dropping water and chemicals to stop it.

It’s also easy to forget all of the complications that arise from such activity. In addition to the loss structures in its path, the Homer Electric Association power line has been damaged, and fire retardant chemicals are being dropped dangerously close to Deep Creek. Dennis Ricker, the Division of Forestry’s coastal region aviation manager, said the retardant is harmful to fish, but his crew has been instructed not to drop it within 300 feet of a slow-moving water body.

It’s hard to believe that sparks from a shovel-grinder could create such a monster, but that’s what wildfire is.

Les Crane told the Clarion that while his cabin isn’t being threatened at this point, fire is something never far from the minds of those who have property in the Caribou Hills.

He said an increase of people and activity, plus the beetle-killed trees, are cause for concern.

“It’s not a matter of if, but when,” he said.

The prescribed control burn planned for Thursday by the Kenai Wildlife Refuge was put on hold. The refuge planned to burn 431 acres of laid-down and standing black spruce in the Lily Lake area near Sterling.

In June 2001, a prescribed 1,100-acre burn grew into a 3,000-acre wildfire near Kenai Lake. A 20-member hotshot crew was released before all the embers were out, and that night winds fanned them into a roaring blaze.

Refuge Manager Robin West said the refuge will wait until the moisture content in the soil and plants improve before they go ahead with their plans.

Weather forecasts may oblige with the moisture. However, along with the warm air the peninsula is finally receiving, they’re calling for thunderstorms. That could mean lightning — and possibly more fires.

There’s not much we can do about nature taking its course, but residents can do their part to eliminate human-caused fires.

· Observe the burn ban that is currently in effect. While campfires are allowed, officials urge extreme care. Campfires must be built in a dirt area with a fire ring cleared of all vegetation, including moss and peat. Water to extinguish a fire must be on site, and any campfire must be attended until it is completely out.

· Don’t ever start any fire in windy conditions.

· Homeowners can help protect their property by creating a “defensible space” or a safety zone around their home. This includes clearing away all flammable vegetation and removing leaves and rubbish from under decks and porches.

Some disasters can’t be avoided, but humans can reduce fire risks by being aware of the danger and exercising extreme caution. Remember, it takes only one spark.

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