Governor puts spotlight on wildfire awareness in the state

Dry, windy conditions already have some areas under burn permit suspensions
Published: May. 10, 2022 at 9:39 PM AKDT
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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - Earlier this month, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced May 8-14 as Wildland Fire Prevention and Preparedness Week. The timely proclamation coincides with the beginning of wildfire season in Alaska, which runs from mid-May through August.

In a press conference held Tuesday by the Alaska Division of Forestry, Deputy Director of Fire Protection Norm McDonald highlighted the hazard fuels program that aims to create defensible space around communities by removing debris in heavily wooded areas. The division has ramped up prevention efforts through recent state and federal funding.

“Those projects take place all around the state, from the Kenai to Fairbanks. and everywhere in between,” McDonald said.

The additional funding has also allowed the state to partner with local governments to provide residents an alternate option to dispose of yard debris, instead of burning it.

“Instead of burning those piles on their property on days like this where we got wind and dry conditions, they can take it to the landfill where it’s chipped, and they utilize those chips as part of their landfill cover,” McDonald said.

Both the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Denali Borough are allowing free debris disposal at the landfills, while the City of Kenai is working to establish a similar disposal site.

Forestry officials reminded residents that burn permits are required if they do choose to burn. The Division of Forestry revamped its website over the winter to make it easier for individuals to obtain a burn permit as well as check current weather conditions and burn suspensions in effect.

Dry and windy conditions have already created suspensions on the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak Island.

A lack of precipitation is also being felt in the Mat-Su. Of the 39 fires that have been reported in the area so far this year, 32 were considered human-caused. Fire Management Officer for the Mat-Su Southwest area Phil Blydenburgh said that the fires were largely due to escaped debris.

“Our message to the folks that are out there trying to get work done, yard work, is just to go to the website, get a burn permit, and follow the conditions and the guidelines in the permit,” Blydenburgh said. “Because that keeps you safe, and if you’re following those guidelines you’ll be more successful with your burn.”

On July 1, the Division of Forestry will undergo a name change to the Division of Forestry & Fire Protection. The state legislature approved an Executive Order put forth by Governor Mike Dunleavy earlier this year to change the name of the division so it better represents its fire suppression responsibilities as well as forestry duties.

No costs will be associated with the name change. Any new equipment and supplies will bear the new name, only after existing equipment wears out.

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