With fewer wildfires this year, fire crews shift focus to prevention
EAGLE RIVER — Despite the warm summer, wildfire numbers are significantly down this year in Alaska.
Last year it cost more than $100 million to fight fires that burned more than 4 million acres. This year not even 200,000 acres have burned, costing less than $20 million to fight, according to the Bureau of Land Management.
It was a scary start to the season for residents in Eagle River, where just over six weeks ago a wildfire burned 25 acreas near Hiland Road. It was a reminder to residents that a wildfire in this area is not only possible but likely, and they need to be prepared.
“It was fairly distressing to have it. There’s only one way road in and out of here and the wind was blowing this way, it got all smoky … it was pretty disturbing,” said Eagle River resident Andrew Dwyer.
Dwyer was born and raised in Eagle River and a fire in this valley has always been on his mind. He’s worked to clear out what dead trees he can on his property to help protect his home from a wildfire but there’s a lot more in the area. It’s a project the Anchorage Fire Department has hoped to help with for years.
“Yeah so you can see we’re right up behind these homes along Denaina Drive and if you look up there’s standing dead trees, still there’s quite a bit on the ground right here,” said Anchorage Fire Department forester, John See.
They planned to create fuel lines in the area about 5 years ago, but crews haven’t been available until now.
“We’ve inventoried a number of locations around Anchorage, Eagle River, Chugiak area, so we have a list of projects, depending on the crews availability here that we’re going to try and jump on. This will give us a leg up if there is a fire like there was earlier this season,” said See.
The season may have started out warm and dry, but there’s been significantly more rain than last year at this time and less than half the amount of lightning strikes. This has meant fewer fires, freeing up fire crews for projects like this one in Eagle River.
“This project is really important, it’ll keep the fire on the ground as opposed to torching up these spruce trees,” said See, “We’re going to get rid of these fuels that are in here on the ground and we’re going to limb up trees up to keep the surface fire on the ground.”
Dwyer is glad to have the help.
“I think it’s great that they would come out and do that. I think it’s the kind of thing we should be spending money on.”
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