News-Miner opinion: Make no mistake, wildfire season is here.
The season officially started April 1, and there already have been fires at shooting ranges in Fairbanks and Palmer. There was also a 2-acre blaze near Glennallen, the Moose Creek fire, and the first coal seam fire of the year was reported near Healy. There are grass fires being reported in various locations across the state.
As of early this week, there were a dozen small fires burning across Alaska, state officials say. The state’s warmer, drier climate — not to mention its 32,400 lightning strikes each year — almost guarantees things will get worse.
“The boreal forest of Alaska is a wildfire-driven ecosystem, so it’s not a matter of if there will be wildfires but when and where,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in declaring May 9-15 as Wildland Fire Prevention and Preparedness Week.
The Alaska Division of Forestry, Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service and the U.S. Forest Service are urging Alaskans to educate themselves and exercise care to protect their homes and communities this summer by fireproofing their dwellings and preventing human-caused wildfires.
They point out more than 60% of wildfires in Alaska are human-caused and those blazes do incalculable damage. Last year, there were 347 wildfires across Alaska that charred 181,000 acres. The year was no great shakes, ranking 55th in years since record-keeping began in 1935. Alaska’s record fire season was 2004, when 6.5 million acres burned. Fighting wildfires in 2019 cost the state $300 million.
What can we do? Experts suggest moving wood piles away from homes and clearing trees and limbs and other combustibles at least 30 feet away from structures. Get the leaves and spruce needles and twigs out of rain gutters. Cover vents or soffits with wire mesh to prevent entrance of airborne embers. If traveling in a vehicle, do not toss cigarette butts out the window and if you are towing a trailer make sure your safety chains are not dragging on the highway, kicking up sparks.
It might be a good idea, too, if you live in a fire-prone area, to prepare a “bugout” bag with things you might need if you were to be forced to quickly evacuate your home, things such as important documents.
Check with proper authorities before burning debris. Alaska requires state burn permits for burn barrels or to burn off lawns on all state, municipal and private lands in Alaska where a local burn permit program does not exist. That is in effect from April 1 to Aug. 31.
Free burn permits are available, complete with safe burning practices printed on them, at local state forestry offices and many local fire departments. They can be printed online at dnr.alaska.gov/burn.
If we all do what we can, perhaps we can have a repeat of last year, or do even better.