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Weekend rain staving off fire danger on the Kenai Peninsula

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Sabine Poux
/
KDLL

All restrictions on burning on the Kenai Peninsula have been lifted.

The wet weather over the weekend brought the wildfire risk substantially down on the peninsula, said Howie Kent, fire management officer for the Alaska Division of Forestry’s Kenai-Kodiak area station in Soldotna.

"It’s exactly what we needed," he said. "That’s why we’re confident now to lift the burn suspension and allow folks to burn their debris piles again."

Kent said the Kenai Peninsula got two inches of rain in some places this weekend . That’s in contrast to the historically dry weather that was worrying fire managers statewide earlier this summer.

"This year we saw historic drying," he said. "For literally two-and-a-half months, we may have gotten a quarter-inch of rain during that span of time."

Kent said layers of moss and other organic material on the forest floor — called duff — were extremely dry. He said they needed rain to soak into the moss layers in the ground, which sometimes extend as far down as three feet deep.

In light of the weekend’s heavy rainfall, the state has since lifted two kinds of restrictions.

On Thursday, the Division of Forestry lifted a burn closure that had been in place since early July, which mostly restricted campfires. At the same time, campfire and fire restrictions are lifted in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Kenai Fjords National Park and in the Chugach National Forest.

And the division’s local office lifted its burn suspension Monday, allowing for the burning of debris. Kent said that restriction was in place because the number one cause of fires on the Kenai Peninsula is escaped debris burning.

Wildfire season isn’t over. There are still crews on fires in the Interior.

But Kent said the season is on the winddown.

"This is generally the time of year when we start seeing the southwest flow, which is our wetter conditions," he said. "We start seeing more of a steady flow of off-and-on rainy periods, followed by some sunshine, followed by rainy periods. We’re transitioning more into a fall-time weather pattern here, which is good."

To date, there have been 527 total wildland fires in Alaska this season, according to the Division of Forestry. The Kenai Peninsula saw 51 fires, all of which Kent says were human caused.

Most of the fires on the Kenai Peninsula this summer have stayed small. But Kent said he was spooked by two in particular: The Caribou Fire, which grew to just over a fifth of a square mile and burned just north of Homer, and a small fire that was contained near Browns Lake in Funny River earlier this month.

For more information, visit the Division of Forestry’s website.

Sabine Poux is the news director at KDLL. Originally from New York, she's lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont, where she fell in love with local news. She covers all things central peninsula but is especially interested in stories related to energy and fishing. She'd love to hear your ideas at spoux@kdll.org.
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