Refuge fire-break project gets boost from cadets

Posted: Sunday, June 25, 2000

Wildfire continues to be a threat to communities on the Kenai Peninsula.

No rain and relative humidity hovering around 30 percent make conditions prime for wildfire ignition. Heavy fuel loads in Kenai Peninsula forests affected by the spruce bark beetle further complicate the issue of wildfire hazard. Reduction of that fuel load is the target of a Kenai National Wildlife Refuge project currently under way in the Funny River area.

The Funny River Road Hazard Fuel Reduction project constructs a 150-foot-wide fire break along Funny River Road, from Mile 3 to Mile 9.

According to project managers, this fuel break will improve the access and egress for residents of Funny River Road in the event of a wildfire, and it will improve the likelihood that fire suppression forces can stop a wildfire at the road.

The project got a big boost over the weekend from the Alaska Military Youth Academy, an alternative high school program operated by the Alaska Army National Guard at Camp Carroll on Fort Richardson. Eighteen youth cadets were the guests of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Kenai Peninsula Borough's Project Impact.

The cadets pruned live trees and constructed and covered slash piles for later burning along Funny River Road.

Although this was the Youth Academy's first time assisting in a project on the refuge, it has visited the peninsula before to retrofit hot water heaters and install smoke alarms for senior citizens last winter.

"We appreciate the cadet labor pool assistance with the project," said Doug Newbould, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge fire officer. "It is an excellent opportunity to provide leadership and guidance to our youth while receiving some additional help in fire prevention."

The Alaska Military Youth Academy is a 22-week residential program for youth aged 16 to 18. Staffed by active and retired officers from all branches of the military and the National Guard, the program was started in 1994.

Cadets choose to participate in it for various reasons.

"Some are here based on problems or lack of discipline -- they've been kicked out of school or told about the program by their parole officer, or their parents have sent them," said Michael Rhodes, operations coordinator. "But they're not all troublemakers.

"Some want to be here for the discipline. They want to join the military and think this is a good place to start to get into that. But it's an all-volunteer program. No one is forced to be in it, they've all made the choice to do it on their own."

Rhodes said 85 to 90 percent of enrolled cadets complete the program, as well as a 12-month nonresidential follow-up. Similar programs exist in other states, and Alaska's has consistently been rated as the best in the country.

Completion of the program has many benefits, Rhodes said. Cadets receive a Tier I or II status in any branch of the military they may choose to join and a stipend upon completion that is used to pay for further education.

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