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August 30, 2019
Wildfire Info and Safety
Heat, drought, and a spruce beetle outbreak have all contributed to an extreme wildfire season this year in Alaska. To date over 2.5 million acres have burned in 683 wildfires.
The Swan Lake Fire on the Kenai Peninsula has repeatedly forced the closure of the heavily traveled Sterling Highway and travel through the fire area is not advised at this time. Here is today’s update. The Swan Lake Fire continues to threaten the Kenai River community of Cooper Landing where residents have been warned to be ready to evacuate if need be. Check out the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s special website where they are posting official information about the Swan Lake Fire.
Right now, thousands of brave men and women are fighting fires and trying to keep roads open across the state, and they deserve our thanks. Perhaps more importantly, they need us, as Alaskans, to be fire aware and do our part to keep our homes, businesses, and communities safe.
There are several great resources available to follow the fire season in Alaska. One of the best is akfireinfo.com. It’s an interagency website to provide wildland fire information to the entire state. Another resource is the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center. There you can find the daily situation report and detailed fire weather forecasts.
Figure 1: The 2-day smoke forecast from the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.
Alaska Wildfire Season Extended
Usually, Alaska’s wildfire season ends in August, but the high fire danger across much of the state resulted in the decision by the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to extend the official wildfire season until September 30. The extension comes with restrictions on open burning including the requirement to get a burn permit. Currently an emergency burn closure remains in effect for the Kenai Peninsula and Mat-Su Boroughs.
DNR has put together a Wildland Fire Guide that includes helpful information about how we respond to wildfires in Alaska and how to deal with the smoke that has plagued much of Southcentral Alaska this fire season. The guide also includes information on how to protect your home by being Firewise.
Journalists Informing Alaskans
With fires burning and smoke billowing, Alaskans, visitors, and others have been turning to traditional media outlets for coverage of the wildfires burning in Alaska. I have been impressed by the dedication shown by hard-working journalists like Jennifer Williams with KSRM radio in Kenai and Phillip Manning with KTNA public radio in Talkeetna. Williams has been posting multiple updates a day on the Swan Lake Fire, while Manning and the entire team at KTNA provided life-saving coverage of the McKinley Fire.
This fire season has shown the value of dedicated journalists and how an old technology like radio is still vital in a place like Alaska where we have spotty cellphone coverage, rural communities, and a challenging environment.
Figure 2: KSRM reporter Jennifer Williams during a break covering wildfires on the Kenai Peninsula.
To report a wildland fire call 911 or 1-800-237-3633.
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