Windy, dry conditions spark burn ban
Multiple wildfires this weekend should be a reminder that wildfire season is here. The U.S. Forest Service, Cooper Landing Emergency Services and the Alaska Division of Forestry responded to a burn near Mile 54 of the Sterling Highway on Sunday, near the east entrance to Skilak Lake Road. Kenai/Kodiak Area Fire Management Officer Howie Kent, with the Alaska Division of Forestry, said the fire was burning in wood chips in the cleared path for the Sterling Highway bypass.
“When our helicopter arrived and started doing bucket work, it was just starting to get into the trees. It was able to knock it down, keep it in check until the Forest Service folks were able to hike up into it and then get on it and secure it,” Kent said.
Kent said the fire is under control, at about a third of an acre, and the forest service should have it out today. The cause of that fire is still under investigation.
Forestry and the Nikiski Fire Department responded to another fire in Nikiski at the same time Sunday. That started from a spark that blew off a raised fire bowl and ignited grass. Kent said the peninsula has had 11 fires so far this year, the largest being just under half an acre.
“It’s definitely fire season. The fuels are dry. We’re at high to very high fire conditions today across the peninsula,” Kent said.
So far, except the yet-to-be-determined ignition source of the Cooper Landing fire, all have been human-caused.
“Every one of them have been human-caused. We’ve had escaped debris burns, escaped warming fires, equipment-caused fires — one by a lawnmower that caught on fire and lit the grass and wildland on fire," Kent said. "We had a chainsaw start a fire we think, here, just Saturday, a couple days ago. Yeah, most of it has been either debris burning escapement or warming fire or equipment-caused.”
That trend is likely to continue.
“May and June are usually our peak months of fire activity. And then when we start seeing all the people moving into the peninsula recreating, we start getting some of those kind of fires, too — recreational kinds of fires," Kent said.
As of Tuesday, open burning will be suspended. Cooking fires, barbecue grills and campfires will still be allowed, as long as they’re less than 3 feet in diameter, have lots of cleared perimeter space and are attended. But burn barrels, burning yard waste and anything of the sort is on pause until fire conditions improve. For more information, visit Safe Burning In Alaska.