Fire sparks plans

OEM ready to deal with disaster

Posted: Wednesday, June 27, 2007

As residents venture back to their cabins and firefighters gain ground on the Caribou Hills blaze, emergency officials unveiled a plan that would ensure peoples’ safety while providing them with reliable information during emergencies.

“The size of the fire presented risks to four areas,” said Jim Butler, agency representative for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management (OEM). “Those risks were dependent on the weather and fire behavior.”

Butler said the central location of the fire, its size and the weather were all factors in setting up this plan, which divided the peninsula into three sections. The north section included Kasilof and Tustumena Lake, Ninilchik was in the central location and the area from Anchor Point to Fritz Creek served as the southern portion of the peninsula. OEM, along with the Division of Forestry’s fire management team, city officials, school officials and the Red Cross established a warning system to inform people of an evacuation as well as a network of gathering points where residents could shelter and receive accurate information.

“Fire managers would define what those points are and that would allow us to craft a communication or a message that could go out on the Community Alert Network phone calling system or on local radio,” Butler said. “The other part (of the plan) was starting to identify the best ways to help move people and direct them.”

At Monday’s public meeting at Tustumena Elementary School in Kasilof, Butler said the plan would be in place should another fire occur later this season. He also said it could be modified in the event of another emergency like a flood.

“The borough has as part of their emergency operations plan an evacuation annex,” he said. “That document serves as a template for how to approach evacuations in general.”

The plan also took into account road blockages and construction areas. Butler said the plan was rerouted to bypass construction on the Kenai River bridge in Soldotna, using Kenai Central High School as a gathering point.

“Part of taking the contingency plan and making it an action plan, you start to refine those and factor those in,” Butler said.

Donna Peterson, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District superintendent, said the district’s role in the plan is to provide facilities for use by emergency officials. In the case of the Caribou Hills blaze, this involved opening up the Ninilchik School for Forestry to use as a headquarters as well as setting up Tustumena Elementary School’s gym for Monday’s public meeting.

“We do this with 15 minutes of warning,” she said, adding that schools would also serve as shelters for disaster victims. “We put coverings on the gym floor (and) make sure everything is opened for them.”

Peterson said the school district also keeps supplies on hand, anything from projectors and screens to toilet paper, to make emergency officials’ job easier. When the emergency is over, she said the state will reimburse the school district in order to take care of things like cleaning the carpet and paying custodians.

Butler said the various staging and gathering areas for the north section of the peninsula, could include the Soldotna rodeo grounds, the sports center, schools, the Alaska State Troopers and the Red Cross. OEM also takes into account the proximity of the gathering site to the disaster itself.

“Tustumena is not identified because it would be too close to the area that’s under threat,” he said.

Butler said staging and gathering points also were being set up for the Ninilchik, Anchor Point and Fritz Creek areas.

“We’re certainly more comfortable today (than) during the last couple of days,” Butler said, “but that was an important effort to make sure we are completely prepared.”

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at

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