Petition seeks attention to 'burning' concerns

Posted: Sunday, July 01, 2001

Kenai Peninsula residents aren't just blowing smoke when it comes to the Kenai Lake wildfire.

Jim Myers of Sterling is circulating a petition that will give citizens an opportunity to voice their concerns over the potential threat of the fire, which began as a prescribed burn lit by the U.S. Forest Service.

He got the idea after realizing he would make more progress if a group backed him. So, after a physical therapy session at Central Peninsula General Hospital last Thursday, Myers wrote the abbreviation CPR -- concerned peninsula residents -- on a piece of paper and proceeded to go through the hospital collecting signatures.

Myers petition had at least 15 names on it by the time he left the hospital. By Thursday evening he had 32 names representing individuals and businesses in the area. He said he wanted to get concerned individuals as well as 'community leaders.'

"If I can get a few people or a whole lot of people, if I have a group of concerned citizens, it will be more credible than an individual," he said.

Myers hopes having a list of peninsula residents who are willing to put their names out and voice their opinions will help him get a spot on the radio this week or a meeting with U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, when he is visiting the peninsula for the Kenai River Classic.

Stevens wrote a letter to the Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman berating the department for its role in the burn. He questioned the reasons for the ignition of the fire as well as the release of the Tazlina Hotshot crew before the fire was declared dead.

"I want to know who authorized the burn and why the Tazlina Hotshots were released Monday before all the embers were out. A number of residents of the Kenai Peninsula have asked why the burn wasn't put out sooner, and I think that they deserve an answer to this question. I am also concerned by the attitude taken by the Forest Service in response to the fire," wrote Stevens.

Stevens' letter continued on to say he does not accept the Forest Service's answers and that he will be visiting the fire when he arrives in Alaska this week. He also blamed the Clinton Administration's refusal to allow the removal of dead trees from Forest Service land on the current fire.

Myers wants Stevens and his fellow congressional delegates to initiate legislation that would hold agencies and individuals responsible for fires that burn out of control.

"What I'd like to see changed is that the people that do these burns are held accountable for them," he said. "I would like there to be legislation -- new research needs to be done on ways to harvest fuels, safer than what is being done now -- legislation that holds the federal government and their employees that do this liable."

While legislation may not put out the fire that had engulfed 2,784 acres as of Friday afternoon, it still needs to fully investigate what happened after the burn was ignited June 15.

"I'm not saying don't burn government land, we just have to find a safer way to do it," Myers said. "Obviously this isn't a very safe thing that has happened here. I just don't want to get burned out."

Congressional delegates are residents' main hope in this situation, he said. If they push legislation through, then CPR is going to disappear.

"I'm not running for political office," Myers said. "There isn't going to be meetings, rallies or dues. We just need to get the attention of the congressional delegates who need to do something about this."

Myers has been making contact with both state and federal politicians as well as agency people since the burn was ignited more than two weeks ago.

"I'm not out here trying to hug trees, but we do have a serious problem that something needs to be done about," he said. "I want federal legislators to know that."

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