2 Anchorage residents face charges in illegal start of Sockeye Fire
Updated Tuesday, July 14, 11:45 a.m.
Charges have been filed against two Anchorage residents for their role in starting the Sockeye Fire in June.
The 7,220-acre wildfire, which was started north of Willow, destroyed 55 homes and damaged 44 other structures. The cause of the fire was determined to be illegal, following an investigation by the Alaska Division of Forestry and Alaska State Fire Marshal’s Office.
Greg Imig, 59, and Amy Dewitt, 42, did not have a required permit for the burn, according to an affidavit.
“These individuals didn’t have a permit to do the burning they were doing,” said Tim Mowry, public information officer for the Division of Forestry. “It just illustrates the importance of the burn permit plan we have in place, to act responsibly and safely when you’re doing any kind of burning.”
If Imig and Dewitt had a permit, they would’ve been within the law legally, Mowry says. Still, the two Anchorage residents didn’t follow the burn guidelines.
They burned brush piles at their cabin near Mile 77 of the Parks Highway and didn’t extinguish the piles. Instead, they left them unattended on June 13, a release from the Department of Natural Resources says.
Those burn piles were located in direct contact with the woods. Weather conditions were reported as 83 degrees with a relative humidity of 21 percent, according to an affidavit from Thomas Greiling.
“The area around the debris pile was not cleared down to mineral soil, there was not a hose or adequate water source to prevent the fire from spreading into the wild lands,” DNR says. “One of the piles continued to smolder and then crept out of the hot ash into the woods, resulting in a wildfire the next day.”
A resident who lived across the street from the location of the fire alerted authorities to the blaze, court documents say. Investigation revealed that the burning took place at a property owned by Imig.
“Greg Imig stated that he did not have a well or water hose at this property, and that due to the dry conditions and low humidity, he shouldn’t have been having burn piles,” the affidavit reads.
“That permit spells out what you’re supposed to do,” said Mowry. “Having that permit in hand and seeing that in writing, I can’t tell you if that would’ve made a difference, but it could’ve.”
Individuals responsible for starting a wildfire have the potential to be held accountable for twice the amount of the cost of fighting the fire, the department says. At last report, the cost in resources related to the Sockeye Fire were at more than $8 million.
Authorities say both Imig and Dewitt face “a variety of charges” — three counts of reckless endangerment, criminally negligent burning, failure to obtain a burn permit, burning without clearing an area, allowing the spread of fire and leaving a fire unattended.
An arraignment is scheduled for July 28 in Palmer District Court.
“This has been a tragedy for everybody involved,” Mowry said. “From the victims who lost homes to the two individuals who have been charged to people who, the land around their homes was burned.”
Willow resident and musher Bob Chlupach lost his home in the Sockeye Fire. It’s given him closure to hear that the people responsible for the blaze have been charged — but the tragedy hasn’t hardened his heart.
“I don’t feel any angst or anger at all,” said Chlupach. “In some ways, I feel a little sorry that they are caught in this mess, and I know they didn’t intend it.”
Debris burning is the No. 1 cause of human-caused wildfires in Alaska, Mowry says.
The post 2 Anchorage residents face charges in illegal start of Sockeye Fire appeared first on KTVA 11.