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Warm spring, high fire danger

By Heather Hintze 9:12 PM May 1, 2014

Permitted burns and outdoor campfires are prohibited until further notice


It’s not hard to find evidence of homeless camps in the woods near Campbell Creek Trail. Firefighters say the biggest problem isn’t their illegal camping, but their illegal campfires that pose the biggest threat this time of year.

“They’ve burned some trash there, there’s a fire pit here,” Battalion Chief Tim Garbe pointed out. “An unattended fire from a homeless camp is what started the Piper Street fire,” he explained.

That fire in 2007 burned nearly 10 acres. Garbe said it was the last large-scale brush fire in Anchorage.

“This is the kind of fire that in the wrong conditions on a high wind day, low humidity, high temperature, extreme fire dangers. These are the kinds of fires that can spread rapidly and could potentially become a conflagration,” he said.

The lack of April showers combined with the warm weather means fire danger is already at an elevated level this early in the spring.

Right now permitted burns are suspended until further notice. Campfires and burn pits are also prohibited unless it’s at a designated campground.

Garbe said the charred trees from the Piper Street fire should remind people to take precautions.

“Once fire gets into these spruce forests like this and it starts burning hot, it will literally torch from tree to tree,” he said.

Fire Station 14 is equipped with extra brush units to combat fires in hard-to-reach areas. The hoses and water pumps are lighter and more portable so they can be taken directly to the fire.

“Being able to move to the fire before it gets out of control is important for us to be able to do that,” explained Capt. Chris Keen. “In order to do that we have to move to where the fire is and not wait for it to come to us.”

Last year the Anchorage Fire Department responded to more than 70 wildfires and grass fires that burned about 12 acres. Firefighters also stayed busy with 250 calls about unauthorized burning.

“I’m with the Anchorage Fire Department,” Garbe shouted to two homeless men at a campsite near the Piper Street site. “You’re going to have to extinguish your fire, there’s no burning allowed right now,” he said.

The two men said they didn’t know about the restrictions and complied, dousing their fire with water. Garbe said it’s fires like that that can escalate quickly and become a bigger problem. He said everyone needs to be proactive so something like the Piper Street fire doesn’t’ happen again.

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