Glacier Creek Fire benefits outweigh its inconveniences

Posted: Sunday, September 05, 2004

It's hard to think of fire as being beneficial, especially when you're breathing smoke as Kenai Peninsula residents have been.

But by all accounts the Glacier Creek Fire, which has been burning primarily in the area northeast of Tustumena Lake, has been a good blaze.

The benefits include renewal of habitat for moose and other wildlife and the creation of a natural fire break, reducing the chances of a catastrophic wildfire. The fire has eliminated about 8,000-plus acres of spruce bark beetle-killed trees and other natural fuel, which, in the long run, will create a healthier forest.

The big plus, of course, is the fire has done all this without destroying homes or hurting people except for the effects from the smoke.

While the effects of the smoke on those with health problems should not be downplayed, the fire's pluses outweigh the minuses.

When views are obscured in a haze of smoke that can prompt health concerns, it's easy to wonder why an all-out assault wasn't called to douse the fire immediately.

Listen to the fire experts explain the reasons, however, and it makes perfect sense that the wise call is to let the fire burn.

The management plan of the Glacier Creek Fire has been one of limited suppression meaning the fire has been monitored and action taken as necessary. That decision was made based on several factors, including the remote location of the blaze, its rejuvenation effects on the ecosystem, its hazard and fuel-reduction value, a desire to keep suppression costs low and the need to ensure the safety of firefighters and the public.

There just hasn't been a need to call in the firefighting cavalry although, rest assured, that cavalry would have been here had it been needed.

While the closure of some trails have been an inconvenience to hunters, the fire will benefit hunters in seasons to come. Keeping hunters out of the area is for their safety and that of rescue teams that would be called to go in after them if they got into trouble. Why risk lives?

Fire suppression teams have won accolades for their efforts to protect cabins and other structures in the region. Firefighters have worked to clear defensible space and build fire breaks around buildings in the Bear Creek area.

Their work is a good reminder to all peninsula homeowners: If you don't have defensible space around your home, now is the time to create it. It's not that difficult and can pay big dividends during the fire season. Among the things homeowners should do to protect their property from a wildfire is keep flammable materials at least 30 feet from their homes and other structures. To be safe, not only should firewood and fuels be moved away, but also dead or easily burned trees.

Defensible space doesn't have to mean a house surrounded by a dirt lot. A healthy, well-trimmed lawn is a safe option. Tree limbs should be pruned so the lowest is six to 10 feet from the ground. Leaf clutter and other debris should be removed. When possible, homes and other structures should be built with materials that are fire-resistant or noncombustible.

It's also important for driveways to be well marked and cleared of any obstacles so firefighters can get to a home.

The adage continues to be true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Taking steps to weather the fire season safely are far less expensive and troublesome than having to rebuild because of fire.

The peninsula appears to be making it through another fire season without a catastrophe. The fact is, however, that the area always will be prone to wildfires, and the more dead spruce that litters the landscape the worse those fires are likely to be. Every little way homeowners help keep their property safe also helps keep the entire peninsula safe at the least, safer.

In the meantime, hats off to those who fight the fires once they start. It's because of their efforts and wise decisions that the Glacier Creek Fire has not gotten out of control.

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