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Fireworks banned, wood cutting areas closed as Interior Alaska heat wave continues

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Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2013 12:43 pm | Updated: 10:04 am, Fri Jun 28, 2013.

Updated at 3:20 p.m. to clarify that the ban doesn’t encompass all of the Fairbanks borough: FAIRBANKS—Citing extreme fire danger as the result of a two-week-long heat wave, borough Mayor Luke Hopkins announced Thursday that the use of fireworks will be banned in many areas of the Fairbanks North Star Borough starting at noon Friday.

“We’re trying to be as prepared and preventative as we can,” Hopkins said in a news conference at the borough building. “What we’re doing is asking people, let’s be sensible, let’s be smart.”

The ban, ordered by local fire chiefs and the state fire marshal, is in response to what Hopkins called “one of the worst drying spells since the mid-’80s.”

The borough also closed all firewood-cutting areas effective immediately to personal-use and commercial logging in response to the high fire danger, Hopkins said. The state Department of Natural Resources has also suspended cutting in state wood-cutting areas.

Hopkins, along with Fairbanks city Mayor Jerry Cleworth and North Pole Mayor Bryce Ward, asked chiefs from local fire departments and the state fire marshal to impose the fireworks ban. Fire chiefs have the authority to ban fireworks in their individual districts. The state fire marshal has the authority to ban them in areas not served by a fire department.

The only exception to the ban is on private property in the borough that is outside the jurisdiction of a fire department. State law defers to local government code, and the Fairbanks borough’s code doesn’t allow banning the use of fireworks on private property that is not subject to the authority of a local fire chief. The section of code pertaining to fireworks was adopted in 1972, Hopkins said.

Hopkins said he will introduce an ordinance, probably in August, that would allow for a complete borough-wide ban in times of extreme fire danger by giving the borough mayor the authority to prohibit fireworks use on private property.

“What we’re trying to do is make a blanket ban in the borough and we’re asking people to comply with that,” Hopkins said.

The ban will be in effect until conditions change, the mayor said.

The city of North Pole, the only place in the borough where people can buy fireworks, banned the sale of fireworks earlier this week because of the high fire danger.

Alaska State Fire Marshal Kelly Nicolello said conditions in the borough are too dangerous to risk the use of fireworks.

“Because of the conditions, that’s not something we can enjoy right now,” said Nicolello.

Alaska State Troopers and local police departments will enforce the ban, Hopkins said.

Alaska has 115 active wildfires currently, most of which are in the Interior and several of which are in the Fairbanks borough. There have been no reports of any fires in the state being caused by fireworks or wood-cutting, and Hopkins wants to keep it that way in the borough.

With the state’s firefighting resources already stretched thin due to the large number of fires, Hopkins said it doesn’t make sense to risk starting more fires with fireworks or as a result of wood-cutting.

“We’re trying to be proactive in conditions that are very serious,” he said.

The fireworks ban heading into the Fourth of July weekend gives local fire departments one less thing to worry about, said Chief Mitch Flynn of the Steese Area Volunteer Fire Department.

“This helps eliminate one risky cause of fires,” he said.

Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.

Updated at 3:20 p.m. to clarify that the ban doesn’t encompass all of the Fairbanks borough: FAIRBANKS—Citing extreme fire danger as the result of a two-week-long heat wave, borough Mayor Luke Hopkins announced Thursday that the use of fireworks will be banned in many areas of the Fairbanks North Star Borough starting at noon Friday.

“We’re trying to be as prepared and preventative as we can,” Hopkins said in a news conference at the borough building. “What we’re doing is asking people, let’s be sensible, let’s be smart.”

The ban, ordered by local fire chiefs and the state fire marshal, is in response to what Hopkins called “one of the worst drying spells since the mid-’80s.”

The borough also closed all firewood-cutting areas effective immediately to personal-use and commercial logging in response to the high fire danger, Hopkins said. The state Department of Natural Resources has also suspended cutting in state wood-cutting areas.

Hopkins, along with Fairbanks city Mayor Jerry Cleworth and North Pole Mayor Bryce Ward, asked chiefs from local fire departments and the state fire marshal to impose the fireworks ban. Fire chiefs have the authority to ban fireworks in their individual districts. The state fire marshal has the authority to ban them in areas not served by a fire department.

The only exception to the ban is on private property in the borough that is outside the jurisdiction of a fire department. State law defers to local government code, and the Fairbanks borough’s code doesn’t allow banning the use of fireworks on private property that is not subject to the authority of a local fire chief. The section of code pertaining to fireworks was adopted in 1972, Hopkins said.

Hopkins said he will introduce an ordinance, probably in August, that would allow for a complete borough-wide ban in times of extreme fire danger by giving the borough mayor the authority to prohibit fireworks use on private property.

“What we’re trying to do is make a blanket ban in the borough and we’re asking people to comply with that,” Hopkins said.

The ban will be in effect until conditions change, the mayor said.

The city of North Pole, the only place in the borough where people can buy fireworks, banned the sale of fireworks earlier this week because of the high fire danger.

Alaska State Fire Marshal Kelly Nicolello said conditions in the borough are too dangerous to risk the use of fireworks.

“Because of the conditions, that’s not something we can enjoy right now,” said Nicolello.

Alaska State Troopers and local police departments will enforce the ban, Hopkins said.

Alaska has 115 active wildfires currently, most of which are in the Interior and several of which are in the Fairbanks borough. There have been no reports of any fires in the state being caused by fireworks or wood-cutting, and Hopkins wants to keep it that way in the borough.

With the state’s firefighting resources already stretched thin due to the large number of fires, Hopkins said it doesn’t make sense to risk starting more fires with fireworks or as a result of wood-cutting.

“We’re trying to be proactive in conditions that are very serious,” he said.

The fireworks ban heading into the Fourth of July weekend gives local fire departments one less thing to worry about, said Chief Mitch Flynn of the Steese Area Volunteer Fire Department.

“This helps eliminate one risky cause of fires,” he said.

Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.

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