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We have all heard the Smokey Bear message, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires,” at one time or another. The message, created by the Ad Council in 1944, was published on posters illustrating an American black bear wearing blue jeans and a campaign hat pouring a bucket of water on a campfire.
The Alaska Fire Service is asking people to help prevent wildland fires in the Alaska Interior this season. Last week, four human-caused wildfires were reported to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center within a three-day period.
“This is a critical time for the Alaska Fire Service,” said AFS public affairs officer Doug Stockdale. “Because it is the end of the fire season, we now have limited staffing. Our firefighting staff and contracted aircraft are seasonal and are either being let loose for the season or to fight fires in the Lower 48.”
Accidental wildland fires can put people and resources at risk. The Alaska Fire Service is asking care be taken when hunting, fishing and during other outdoor activities. Further, gasoline engines on all-terrain vehicles and chainsaws get hot and could ignite flammable materials with which they come into contact.
“Some folks will remove the spark arrestors from their chainsaw or ATV to try to get better performance and unknowingly will drop sparks that will ignite after they have left the area” Stockdale said.
A moment of carelessness can lead to an unintentional wildfire and can put unwanted smoke into the air that can linger for days.
Further, autumn is an ideal time for burning debris, and permits are not required between Aug. 31 and April 1, said Maggie Rogers, a public affairs officer with the Department of Forestry. Safe burning practices should always apply along with compliance with borough or municipality permits and local air quality regulations.
According to Rogers, some safe practices for burning debris or responsibly building a campfire include:
Check the fuel conditions around the fire area to prevent accidental fire spread.
Clear the area around the campfire down to the mineral soil and keep the area cleared between the burn location and vegetation.
Have a water source sufficient to control or put out a fire.
Have tools such as a rake, shovel or heavy equipment on hand.
Never leave a fire unattended.
Be cautious of wind, as it can easily spread a smoldering fire into nearby dry fuels.
Completely extinguish a fire before leaving.
Smokers should hold onto a match until it is cold and crush cigarette butts to make sure they are not burning before disposing of them properly.
“Human-caused wildland fires have consequences,” Rogers said. “People cause 85 percent of the fires of which the Division of Forestry responds. The fires most often occur in populated areas and have the potential to create significant damage. Escaped wildland fires are investigated and, depending on the situation, there may be ramifications that take years to resolve. Litigation requires a lot of time, energy and money and the settlement is a reminder that carelessness with anything that can ignite a wildland fire is not worth the consequences.”