Division of Forestry explains some odd things that start fires

A tuft of dry grass. With just a minor spark, the Division of Forestry says this could easily...
A tuft of dry grass. With just a minor spark, the Division of Forestry says this could easily light up and start a fire.(Taylor Clark)
Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 7:00 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Wildfire season is in full swing in Alaska, and the Division of Forestry wants to remind people that all that dry grass is basically a tinder blanket across the state. When it comes to what starts fires, division Public Information Officer Tim Mowry said he’s seen some unexpected things start a blaze.

As of late last week, Mowry said there have been more than 60 fires reported in the state so far this season. Since it’s not quite the time of year where lightning is common, almost every single one has been human caused, he said.

Mowry said by in large, escaped burn barrels and debris fires are the most common cause of preventable fires in Alaska. However, every year, the division sees some different causes.

“We had one in the Valley this year that was started by an overheated lawn mower parked on dry grass,” Mowry said. “You know you can have a lawn mower blade strike a rock when somebody is mowing a lawn, and if that grass is dry, and gets a spark. I’ve seen fires like that. I mean last year we had somebody that threw burnt popcorn onto their lawn — dead, dry grass — it ignited a grass fire.”

On May 8, the Bureau of Land Management and the Division of Forestry reported that not one, but two fires started at shooting ranges — one near the Chena Hot Springs outside of Fairbanks and another near Knik River outside of Palmer. Both of them started on the same day, triggered by recreational shooting at the ranges. Both of them needed helicopter water drops and fire teams to put them out, according to the announcement.

Mowry added that even hot chainsaws placed on dry grass can cause a fire. The same goes for backfiring all-terrain vehicles in rural areas. He said a car’s brake pads can even be hot enough to start a fire if one parks on the grass.

There are some fires than can start from littering, too. Mowry said if a piece of glass gets the right angle with the sun, that also has a chance of igniting a fire.

Mowry said when it’s a human caused fire, the odds of it being near a human dwelling are much higher.

“That’s the big risk right now,” he said. “It’s not necessarily, you know, big forest fires like the Swan Lake Fire or the McKinley Fire or things like that. It’s more these isolated instances of chances of burning your own house down or your neighbor’s house down.”

Mowry said the best way to avoid a fire like this happening is to think about what one is doing outside and if it could cause a spark. If it can, he said one should check the weather. If it’s a dry or windy day, he said it may be a good idea to wait until another time to do the activity.

As always, he said to get a permit before intentionally burning anything. Even if the permit holder doesn’t use it, he said there is a lot of information about fire safety on the permits.

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