Borough scrambles to keep up with blaze

Posted: Friday, June 29, 2001

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley summed up the immediate lesson from the Kenai Lake Fire in two words: "No fireworks."

Describing the fire as "the most unbelievable site," he urgently cautioned against using fireworks that are traditionally a part of Independence Day celebrations.

Bagley said he wasn't consulted by the U.S. Forest Service about the prescribed burn that was started by federal foresters on June 15. After burning the 1,200 acres of Chugach National Forest as planned, the fire continued to tear across an additional 1,500 acres. However, Bagley said, his input was sought by state Division of Forestry personnel concerning burns planned for the Anchor Point area.

"I'm not excited about any controlled burns," Bagley said. "And they may be rethinking their plans after this."

According to Bonnie Golden, Information Officer in the borough's Office of Emergency Management, a well-trained team of borough personnel is prepared to assist in whatever way it can to stop the Kenai Lake Fire.

"We've got a really well-trained staff," Golden said. "There are a lot of experienced folks that have been here a number of years and have been through other incidents in the past."

Keeping a close eye on the fire are Ed Oberts, Bagley's assistant, and Jan Henry, director of the borough's Office of Emergency Management. Both were in the Moose Pass and Crown Point areas near the fire on Thursday.

"We've set up a meeting for 8:30 this evening here at the Moose Pass School," said Oberts on Thursday afternoon.

The meeting is an effort to inform residents of the status of the fire, what is being done to bring it to an end and to review plans for evacuation in the event that becomes necessary.

"We're providing borough staff as liaisons," Oberts said. "Our function is fairly limited in that we're helping coordinate evacuation efforts and providing resources to the responding teams."

Also on site are David Gibbs, the borough's safety officer, who is acting as liaison between the Forest Service and the borough. Andy DeVolder, of the borough's Spruce Bark Beetle Office, is also on hand.

"He's using the GIS (geographic information system) to supply maps and is able to download aerial photos," Golden said.

The borough's offer of support has resulted in a game of musical chairs on the home front. Borough surveyor Max Best is filling in for Henry. Nikiski Fire Department is on alert, ready to provide backup for Central Emergency Services, which has supplied the firefighting effort with a fire engine, a command vehicle and the personnel necessary to operate them.

And if that wasn't enough, Golden said, the borough's emergency team is also keeping its eyes on the rising waters of the Kenai River.

"We're aware that it's extremely full and keeping a watch on any changes that might occur there," Golden said before laughing and adding, "We're just waiting for the volcano to go off."



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