June 29, 2001 The Peninsula Clarion ponders the near future as its ongoing natural disasters collide with an upcoming holiday

Posted: Monday, July 02, 2001

Wildfire. Flooding. What's next?

An earthquake? Volcanic eruption? A swarm of locusts?

The weather couldn't be more beautiful going into a holiday week that for many people will stretch from this weekend until next.

That beautiful weather, however, is fueling two potential disasters -- the wildfire burning above Kenai Lake and the high water in the Kenai River basin.

As people prepare to enjoy the Fourth of July holiday, it's important for them to be aware of the potential for disaster happening all around them and take precautionary measures.

The holiday week and its influx of visitors make the situation all the more interesting for emergency workers as they consider all the possibilities and options. Will an evacuation be necessary? Will fire force the closure of the Seward Highway? What happens if an ice dam breaks sending the water levels in the Kenai basin even higher? How do the fire and flooding mix with the usual disasters that might be expected during a holiday week -- boating accidents, car crashes, drowning?

The wildfire burning on the north shore of Kenai Lake is a vivid reminder that fire danger is extreme. In fact, a burn ban for the entire peninsula has been issued. There's no way to be too careful.

It's an especially important message since many people choose to celebrate the Independence Day holiday with fireworks. Fireworks within the Kenai Peninsula Borough, except for exhibitions which have been granted special approval from the borough mayor, are prohibited. Aside from being illegal, fireworks are just a stupid, dangerous idea with everything as dry as it is. One errant spark and the peninsula could go up in flames, literally.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that fireworks-related fires across the nation have typically averaged $20 million in property loss each year in the past decade. With conditions the way they are, it's easy to envision that kind of property loss with just one fireworks-related fire on the peninsula.

Fire isn't the only concern residents and visitors to the peninsula have.

Everyone needs to be wary of the rising waters in the Kenai River basin. Water is high and fast. Anglers need to exercise caution. Children should be closely supervised on or near the water -- and all kids should be wearing personal flotation devices if they are in or near the water. In a boat, everyone should wear a personal flotation device -- those life jackets aren't going to do anyone any good if the boat overturns and people end up in the water without them.

The high water means lots of debris in the water that isn't normally there -- including big trees. That debris could prove disastrous to boaters who aren't careful.

Even though it's hot and dry, that doesn't mean there isn't the possibility of hypothermia. There is. Keep an eye on those who are swimming -- and remember to always swim with a buddy.

Dehydration is also a potential danger. Those who are spending the weekend outside -- and who isn't? -- should make sure they carry double the amount of water they normally do to keep kids and pets properly hydrated.

Just in case everything that could go wrong does, people should make sure they know how to use their cell phone in an emergency. Emergency services can't always be reached with a simple 911 call from a cell phone. In fact, it's a good idea to tape the numbers to emergency services to one's phone. That way there's nothing to remember in an emergency situation.

People also need to tune in to what officials are saying about an emergency -- and follow their advice. No one is trying to put a damper on anyone's fun with a long list of do's and don'ts. Most precautionary measures are old-fashioned common sense.

It's more important than ever to use that common sense when confronted with the kinds of potential disasters the peninsula now faces.

So, be safe -- and don't forget to take along plenty of bug dope.

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