The Kenai-Kodiak area Forestry office is seeking to recover $55,477 in fire suppression costs incurred so far during the 2002 fire season.
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry office in Soldotna said it is seeking to recoup the costs from individuals for nine fires this season.
"Most of the fires were in the Anchor Point and Homer areas," said Sharon Roesch, fire prevention officer.
"We had two off East End Road, four in Anchor Point, one between Anchor Point and Homer and two in the Kasilof area," she said.
Dry grass in areas that had been cleared of spruce bark beetle killed trees contributed to the spread of those fires.
Nearly 55 percent of the 51 wildfires in the Kenai-Kodiak area were caused by escaped controlled burns. Ten percent were caused by campfires, which is less than usual, according to Roesch, and 2 percent were caused by children with matches, a number she said also was down from previous years.
Other fire causes include lightning, power lines and fires caused by vehicle or structure fires.
"The single greatest factor in the escape of the (controlled burn) fires was a lack of a mineral soil fire break around the brush pile," Roesch said.
When people with burn permits burn yard waste and other vegetative materials in brush piles, a fire break around the fire is mandated.
Roesch said the width of the fire break depends on the size of the burn pile and on variable wind and weather conditions.
"For instance, if you have a 7-foot pile, a 10-foot break is required," she said. Specifics are listed on the burn permit itself.
"Not only is lack of a fire break a violation of the permit, it's a violation of the Alaska statutes," Roesch said.
"If you light a fire in violation of the Alaska statutes, not only have you committed a misdemeanor, but you are also liable for the costs to suppress that fire."
The Division of Forestry recovers the fire-suppression costs through the courts, if someone is cited, according to Roesch. In sentencing, a judge can order a fine as well as restitution.
"We can also do a civil cost recovery through the Attorney General's office," she said.
The Forestry office on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna currently is renewing three-year burning permits that have expired. Permits are required between May 1 and Sept. 30.
"Even though the permit burn season ends Sept. 30, people must still adhere to the statutes," Roesch said.
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