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Fire fears extinguished

Peninsula enjoys one of mildest wildfire seasons on record

Posted: Sunday, September 10, 2006

Like cool water poured over a blistering burn, this year’s fire season offered soothing relief after last year’s raging wildfires.

Last year, the Alaska Division of Forestry Kenai-Kodiak office responded to 56 incidents burning a total of 42,900 acres. This year, however, it responded to 31 incidence burning a total of just 82 acres.

Although the number of acres burned last year may have been unusually high, this year’s fire season has been unusually quiet compared even to an average year, said Sharon Roesch, Division of Forestry fire prevention officer.

Looking back to records since 1982, Roesch said 31 incidents is the fewest the Division of Forestry has responded to since 1982. And over the last 15 years fires have burned an average of 6,721 acres per year in the Kenai-Kodiak area, she said.

In an average year the Division of Forestry responds to 62 incidents, but this year rain, clouds, high humidity and cooler weather helped suppress fires.

Unlike last year, this year’s fire causes were more in line with what the Division of Forestry would expect. This year only one of the fires Forestry responded was caused by lightening, representing 3 percent of this year’s fires and close to the 4 percent annual average.

Last year, however, 39 percent of the fires were caused by lightening.

Other fire causes tend to be human related, of which escaped controlled burns are the most common and campfires the second most common.

Many escaped controlled burns occur in the spring when people are most likely to clean their property of brush. But Forestry strongly recommends against using controlled burns in the spring, when the snow recedes to expose dead grass and fire hazards are greatest.

“As soon as the snow goes out in the spring the grass is highly ignitable and all you need is warm temps,” Roesch said. “Pre-greenup especially, we have a lot of dry fuel conditions.”

Historically, April, May and June are the driest months of the fire season, Roesch said.

Instead of using controlled burns in the spring, Roesch recommended people wait until fall or winter when moist, cool conditions reduce the risk of a controlled fire escaping. Overall, Roesch said locals have been pretty careful not to ignite fires.

“There’s a lot of awareness in the Kenai area, a lot of it due to the spruce bark beetle and past fires that we’ve had,” she said.

This year’s largest fire, the Cohoe Loop fire in the Kasilof area, occurred May 22 and burned 67 acres. Although the fire spread quickly, the only structure burned was a shed, despite the fire’s close proximity to developed areas.

“Both of the roads were populated on both sides of that fire,” she said. “It was just amazing that the wind spread it right through that unpopulated area.”

On that same day, the Division of Forestry also responded to three smaller fires. Roesch said it’s not unusual for several fires to occur at once.

“It was multiple fire day,” she said. “And it kind of runs that way a lot, because the weather conditions just come together at the right point.”

The department encourages people to protect their property from the threat of wildfire damage. For more information visit www.dnr.state.ak.us/forestry.

Season lacks spark

Last year’s raging wildfire season left the Kenai Peninsula feeling burned. Here’s how this year shaped up in comparison to others:

2006 — 31 wildfires burned 82 acres

2005 — 56 wildfires burned 42,900 acres

Average year — 62 wildfires burn 6,721 acres



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