News-Miner opinion: A hint of wildfire smoke in the air around Fairbanks is enough to set some people on edge. And with good reason.
It’s wildfire season in Alaska.
Residents received another reminder of that fact Sunday night as a fire erupted in the hills north of Two Rivers. The smoke plume was visible from Chena Hot Springs Road to the south and from the Elliott Highway to the north, and smoke tinted a bit of the sky Monday morning.
This fire, which grew to 500 acres as of late Sunday night, doesn’t appear to be a threat to homes in the area along Chena Hot Springs Road. It’s several miles back and, fortunately, a firebreak that was bulldozed into existence during the huge Boundary Fire of 2004 stands in the way. That dozer line is what is now known as the Mike Kelly Trail, which connects to a logging road that is reached from the Hot Springs Road. In addition to the lengthy firebreak, large patches — hundreds of acres — of the Little Chena River valley a few miles to the southwest of the fire have been cleared of trees. Should flames run in that direction, they will run out of fuel.
That effort has given some comfort regarding this fire, which has been named the Caribou Creek Fire.
It’s important to know that state fire officials aren’t sitting around waiting for a wildfire to erupt before going into action. Wildfire protection is a constant necessity, driven by the expansion of humans into the forested areas. State Division of Forestry personnel work with local leaders to create firebreaks and clear other areas as part of a community wildfire protection plan.
In 2003, the Division of Forestry began a targeted program of cutting down stands of black spruce. A 2006 document outlining the first phase of a wildfire protection plan for the Fairbanks North Star Borough noted that the Division of Forestry had already “identified the Little Chena Valley north of the 18 Mile Chena Hot Springs Road as one of the greatest and most likely risks to Fairbanks.” Forestry officials had taken increased interest in ways to reduce wildfire risk following the 2001 West Fork Fire near the end of Chena Hot Springs Road.
Again, that foresight can be seen when looking at a map and seeing the proximity of the Caribou Creek Fire to the fuel clearings that were conducted several years ago.
Let’s hope those defensive measures, like those near many other areas of the borough, aren’t needed.
Alaska fire officials, both state and federal, take on the big parts of preventing wildfires but they don’t do it alone. Residents and visitors also play a big part.
By using common sense when camping or working out in the woods. While nothing can be done to prevent a lightning strike from starting a wildfire, a lot can be done by Alaskans and their guests to make sure we aren’t the cause of a wildfire.
Be aware about the fire danger on any given day. It can change quickly, leading to restrictions or bans on burning. Be mindful, for example, that the super-hot engine of a chainsaw can ignite brush and that a debris fire can escape into the woods. And, of course, remember that the cigarette butt tossed out the car window can become a conflagration that can cause millions of dollars in damage.