Is the peninsula ready for a big fire?

Posted: Friday, August 20, 2004

With 602 wildfires consuming more than 7,800 acres across Alaska this summer, including the ongoing Glacier Creek Fire in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, many peninsula residents are wondering just how prepared the the Kenai Peninsula is for a serious wildlife.

"We're very prepared," said Sharon Roesch, a fire prevention officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry.

"We believe we have adequate personnel for an initial attack on a fire. We have tactical resources available statewide that are on a daily basis positioned where they're most needed based on where fire danger is forecasted to be," Roesch said.

She explained this is conducted through a daily preposition conference call, in which all fire managers in the state take part. The fire danger around the state is assessed and then tactical and fire resources are best positioned for the priority areas.

Tactical resources include smoke jumpers, air tankers for delivery of fire retardants and water, lead planes to guide the tankers, helicopters for crew shuttles and reconnaissance to determine what's burning, how big the fire is, what's threatened by the fire and what the fire could burn into.

Other fire resources include fire engines and hand crews on the ground in each area and along the round system to respond for an initial attack.

"The initial attack is priority. We try to hit it when small and put it out by position forces."

Each area also is staffed with enough personnel to fight any given fire based on that area's fire danger rating, Roesch said.

"We can also order up additional resources from the Lower 48 and Canada as needed," she added.

Ensuring wildfires don't happen in the first place is equally as important as being prepared to combat them, according to Roesch. She said in addition to all the response equipment, procedures and personal, the Division of Forestry also maintains an active fire prevention education program.

According to Roesch, these prevention efforts include teaching people how to build and put out fires safely, maintaining the burn permit program and maintaining educational programs in area schools that teach about fire safety.

"On the peninsula, the greatest cause of wildfires 30 percent are by homeowners that have escaped controlled burns," Roesch said.

"The second highest cause 23 percent of peninsula wildfires are from campfires. The third highest are from children playing with matches or a lighter, which makes up 11 percent of wildfires here," Roesch added.

The remainder of the fires on the peninsula are caused from sparks from power lines, lightning, fireworks and cigarettes.

The Division of Forestry encourages homeowners to be responsible for hazard fuel reduction on their own property, such as removing beetle-killed spruce trees.

"It doesn't take much to clear an ignition zone from around your house or cabin," Roesch said.

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