New data shows warm weather in 2019 corresponds to big jump in money loss in burned structures

Published: Feb. 8, 2021 at 7:36 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — As Alaskans endured summer 2019′s warm weather, there were more fires, which resulted in more money loss to burned structures, according to a new recent report from the Department of Public Safety Division of Fire and Life Safety.

Summer 2019 was the hottest on record for the state, according to Alaska’s Weather Source team. Anchorage saw its highest ever recorded temperature on July 4, 2019, when it hit 90 degrees. The average temperature for the summer months was two degrees warmer than the previous hottest summer, which was 2016.

There were many fires throughout Southcentral Alaska that summer that left the area socked in with smoke, including the McKinley Fire near Willow, the Swan Lake Fire on the Kenai Peninsula and the MLK Fire in East Anchorage.

Of the fires reported to the Division of Fire and Life Safety, there was an estimated nearly $8 million more structural dollar loss from exposures in 2019 than in 2018.

Exposures are fires that spread from a fire’s area of origin.

However, fires Alaska’s three wildland agencies — the Bureau of Land Management, the Division of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service — respond to are not included in these numbers, according to the Division of Fire and Life Safety.

Most of the increase came from the McKinley Fire, the division said.

Public education coordinator and fire training specialist Virginia McMichael said the warmer weather comes with less precipitation and dryer conditions.

“Anytime you have a lot of dry weather up here in Alaska, with all the wildland, you do have more fires. And, so it’s a potential of not only more fires, but larger fires,” McMichael said.

According to a report released at the end of 2020 detailing 2019 fires, fire departments reporting to Alaska National Fire Incident Reporting System responded to more than 72,506 calls in 2019. Nearly 4,000 of them were fire-related, and most were structure fires.

The other 67,478 calls were largely rescues or emergency services.

McMichael said the state is looking at community risk reduction. The departments are gathering statistics for all types of incidents.

“Once they receive that data, then they can go back, and they can strategically invest resources into those occurrences and those types of incidents. And hopefully, we can reduce those types of occurrences,” McMichael said.

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