Anchorage ordinance would speed up homeless camp removal during high fire danger
The Anchorage Assembly will consider an ordinance designed to protect neighborhoods near parks and greenbelts from fires started by homeless campers.
Meg Zaletel, sponsor of the ordinance who represents Midtown, says she considers it a matter of public safety to make the changes to municipal code to address wildfire risk when fire danger is high.
"It is fully a public safety ordinance," Zaletel said. "It's meant to one: Keep people safe who are living near where encampments may be. And two: Keep people who are camping in the woods safe. If it's not safe for someone to be there because of increased fire danger, we don't want you there."
The ordinance gives the Anchorage Fire Department chief the ability to declare parts of town "wildfire danger areas" that require mitigation for public safety. Depending on the circumstances, camps in the danger zone can be cleared out more quickly than the 10-day notice required now.
Camps located in a wildfire danger area could be abated in 72 hours. Camps in the danger zone when both a burn ban is in effect and fire-making implements are present could be cleared out with just 24-hours notice. According to the proposed ordinance, any personal property would be removed and stored.
Zaletel said the immediate threat of a wildfire would allow for immediate evacuation of the area.
"So we have these other additional factors that are saying this is really not safe, you need to go," said Zaletel. "And it still leaves the fire department, just like with our homes and everyone else, exigent circumstances where they can tell you you have to go now."
She said the ordinance would allow police to confiscate fire-making equipment if people were found to be using it recklessly within a fire danger area. Campers would be notified of the removal, either in person at the time they are taken or by a notice posted at the location from which the items were taken. Those things would be stored by the municipality.
A work session on the ordinance is scheduled for Aug. 2, when some changes are expected. A public hearing has been set for Aug. 6.
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