With mass spruce beetle kill, Mat-Su Borough urges caution over holiday weekend
As people head out for Memorial Day weekend, two state campgrounds are still closed due to hazardous trees.
The Division of Forestry estimates there are more than 900 trees to take down in the 37-acre loops around South Rolly.
Some of the dead trees have already fallen dangerously close to where people usually set up camp. One crash-landed near picnic tables at two neighboring sites.
“Imagine being in here with your family or with a tent set up or gathered around the picnic table and having the tree come down while you’re in here,” said fire management officer Phil Blydenburgh.
Crews have already done enough work to open a portion of South Rolly for day use only. Blydenburgh said any crews not actively fighting wildfires will be on tree removal duty.
“As the trees die, they’re already weakened. Now add fire to that equation,” he said.
The Mat-Su Borough is asking property owners to take precautions by clearing their dead trees too.
Mayor Vern Halter was one of several people who spoke at a press conference Thursday morning to address the spruce beetle issue and discuss the borough's Beetle Kill Fire Reduction Initiative.
Halter said the effects of the 2015 Sockeye Fire show why it’s so important to mitigate fire hazards. Federal money announced to fight Alaska spruce bark beetles
“People that had cleared ahead of time of the Sockeye Fire, a lot of those houses made it through. A lot of the houses where black spruce forests was right up to the property of the houses burned right through, so it could save your house,” Halter said.
The Mat-Su Borough has opened three transfer stations for people to drop off spruce beetle kill trees for free. People are also welcome to pick up the logs for firewood.
The Central Landfill is accepting the wood from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the Big Lake Transfer Station is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week.
The borough will also open a special site at the Sunshine Transfer Station at Mile 102.5 of the Parks Highway, past Talkeetna, on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
As campers make their way out for Memorial Day weekend, Emergency Services Director Ken Barkley reminds them to be careful with the high fire danger.
“If you’re not going to be there to monitor it throughout the night until it’s out, don’t burn. Don’t start the fire you can’t contain or control,” Barkley said.
He said firefighters have already responded to a handful of escapement fires.
“We got very lucky we didn’t lose any homes or lives in those fires,” Barkley said.
The state has $2 million of federal money coming in that will go toward cutting down trees and creating fuel lines.
There are an estimated six million acres impacted by the bugs so it will take a massive team effort between the borough, state and federal government to stay on top of the problem.
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