As Memorial Day weekend approaches, wildfire danger remains high across Alaska

Published: May. 28, 2021 at 4:00 PM AKDT|Updated: May. 28, 2021 at 7:32 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Memorial Day weekend is fast approaching, which means many Alaskans are getting ready to light up bonfires and grills. However, wildfire season is also active, which means those two things combined with dry, sunny weather could lead to damage.

“I think especially at this time of year people just can’t fathom how quickly a fire can start and then spread, especially if there’s any kind of wind behind it in this dry grass,” said Tim Mowry, Public Information Officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry. “It’s literally within seconds the fire can be out of a person’s control.”

The threat of wildfires has many Alaskans concerned, including Steve Mac Donald who’s a longtime resident of Anchorage’s Hillside neighborhood, and a former KTUU news director, anchor and reporter.

Mac Donald said that on Tuesday night, he was at his home and walked downstairs. He said he stopped at one of his windows and noticed a fire truck driving by.

“That’s a little unnerving to begin with,” he said. “We saw a good size plume of smoke blowing the smoke uphill toward the base of Flattop (Mountain). And that’s where all this took place basically at the base of Flattop.”

He said wildfires have been a longtime concern for Hillside residents due to the location and the lack of fire hydrants in the area.

“If a fire ever got started up here and was left unchecked, it could be catastrophic for the Hillside area,” he said.

Luckily, Anchorage Fire Department crews responded to Tuesday’s brush fire quickly and were able to get the flames under control.

“They were right on it and they hit it hard, so they did a great job,” Mac Donald said.

But he says the situation could’ve been worse.

”If left alone for maybe another half hour or hour and somebody hadn’t noticed it, who knows what would’ve become,” Mac Donald said.

In spite of Friday’s rain across many areas in Southcentral Alaska, Mowry said people still need to be cautious when they head out this weekend.

“Don’t put your grill on the dry grass,” he said. “Make sure there’s no vegetation around any kind of campfire that you’re gonna have where it could spread, have tools and water on hand, never leave a fire unattended, (and) keep your fires small and manageable so they aren’t throwing embers everywhere.”

According to Mowry, burn suspensions on the Kenai Peninsula and in the Mat-Su were lifted Friday. A burn suspension is currently in place for the Fairbanks area, according to the Division of Forestry.

As of Friday, there were 20 active wildfires burning across the state, according to the division.

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