Firefighters worry about wildfire danger with hunting season
Hunting season is set to begin this weekend and there is concern about hunters traveling near wildfires currently burning in the Willow area.
Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige said at a news conference Wednesday that officials are considering closing the Willow marsh, also called the Willow swamp. It's a spot officials say is on the front line of Mat-Su Fires: McKinley Fire 95% contained, Deshka Landing Fire 95% contained — and a big moose hunting area.
"So we have a real concern that we could have hunters in the area who either become trapped by an advancing fire or a shifting fire," Feige said. "Or that we could have the potential for firefighters to inadvertently be injured or shot downrange of someone hunting big game."
It is a concern shared by Alaska State Troopers.
"With general-hunt moose seasons opening Sunday in Game Management Unit 14A, fire crews working the Deshka Landing Wildfire have expressed concerns about having 200 firefighters in the Willow Swamp area with hunters nearby potentially shooting in their direction," said Alaska Wildlife Troopers Capt. Rex Leath in a release sent out Wednesday.
Troopers say it's not only the Deshka Landing area where there's a safety concern. Perimeters of several active fires in Southcentral Alaska, including the McKinley Fire — also near Willow — and fires on the Kenai Peninsula: the Swan Lake Fire near Cooper Landing, as well as the North Fork Fire and the Caribou Lake Fire north of Homer.
"All of these fires are happening right now in popular, road-accessible hunting areas," Leath said in the release. "Firefighting crews and equipment are present around each fire perimeter and the best thing hunters can do is avoid these areas. That may mean changing plans, traveling well beyond active wildfires, and hunting new country."
Troopers also are asking hunters to take precautions to prevent new fires and to review safety information before heading out the door.
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