The July rush is in full swing, with residents and visitors trying to cram in as much summer activity as possible. But one aspect of Kenai Peninsula life has been quieter than usual this year — wildfire season.
Hans Rinke is the Kenai-Kodiak area forester for the Alaska Division of Forestry. He says they’ve only responded to 28 wildland fires on the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak this spring and summer.
“It’s been a slow season, and that was predicted earlier this year,” Rinke said. “So, basically, the pre-fire season forecast has held true and we’re seeing a moderate to low fire season statewide and here on the Kenai Peninsula. Basically, the weather patterns we’ve gotten wettings rains intermittently throughout the season.
“We do have periods every year, especially this year — May, June and recently like on the Fourth of July holiday, where we have high fire danger for extended periods of time, but we haven’t seen that widespread throughout the summer.”
All the wildland fires on the Kenai Peninsula this year have been human-caused, though none got out of hand.
“We have had several fires that certainly had potential, most of those being on the southern Kenai Peninsula — Anchor Point, Nikolaevsk, the Homer area, in late May and early June,” Rinke said.
Forestry has had light staffing this summer, given the lower fire danger, and more firefighters have been leaving town in the last few weeks to head to fires in the Lower 48. Rinke says that sharing personnel is good for Alaska. The firefighters will be more experienced when they return, and it’s a cost savings for the state.
“The resources certainly are shared between states. Our firefighters are state employees here but we respond to fires all over the nation and occasionally into Canada,” Rinke said.
While they have been in town, it’s not like the Forestry crew has been sitting around playing cards all summer. They’ve been working on fuel reduction projects to help prepare for future years when fire danger increases again.
“We’ve just recently, in last few weeks, done work out in Three Johns area of Sterling, which we’ve been working on in conjunction with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the borough and the Refuge out there — multiagency fuels project, Sterling fuel break. Also in the last few weeks, we’ve been working in conjunction with state Parks on a fuels project at Scout Lake,” Rinke said.
The forecast is calling for sun and temperatures in the 70s for the next few days but fire danger should remain relatively low this week. The peninsula is in full summer greenup and we have had recent rains. Still, Rinke cautions everyone to practice good fire safety. If you had a campfire or debris fire, make sure you clear a firebreak around the perimeter so it doesn’t escape, and check the fire the next day to make sure it’s out.
Burn permits are required by state statute through the end of August. You can find more information on permits and good burning behavior at www.dnr.alaska.gov/burn.