State forestry officials urge public to heed burn suspensions

– Warm, sunny weather is nice, but it’s also dangerous.

The Division of Forestry in Fairbanks has responded to several wildfires in the last few days as a result of debris

burns that have escaped from homeowners. Many of the incidents have involved unpermitted burns, both

when burning has been suspended and when burning is allowed. Division of Forestry burn permits are

required for any open burning from April 1 to August 31 in communities along the road system.

“It just seems like we’ve had a lot of unapproved burning and I want to nip that in the bud,” Fairbanks Area

Prevention Officer Mike Goyette said, noting that debris burning is the number one cause of human-caused

wildfires in Alaska.

A burn suspension has been in place in the Fairbanks Area, as well as other parts of the Interior, for the past

three days due to warm temperatures, low relative humidities and windy conditions. With temperatures

climbing into the mid-70s and possibly even low-80s, the threat of wildfires is growing each day around the

state. With no significant precipitation yet this spring and greenup still in progress, conditions are extremely

dry and vulnerable to wildfire, especially in areas with cured grasses.

Temperatures are forecast to be in the mid-70s through the weekend with the relative humidity expected to

drop into the low teens accompanied by high winds. Those conditions provide potential for extreme fire

spread in the event of a wildfire.

The National Weather Service on Saturday issued Red Flag Warnings for most of the Interior and those

warnings are expected to be in effect through the weekend due to the hot, dry, windy weather. Burn

suspensions remain in place for Fairbanks, Delta, Tok, the Copper River Basin and Denali Park.

Any person who starts or causes a wildfire can be held responsible for the cost of extinguishing that wildfire,

which can be anywhere from a few hundred to several million dollars.

Responding to wildfires, even small grass fires, is expensive, Goyette said. The conditions are volatile enough

that the Division of Forestry can’t take a chance on letting a fire in the urban interface escape and develop into

a destructive wildfire, which is the primary reason the agency responds aggressively with expensive air

support to size up and fight fires. Air resources such as helicopters and air retardant tankers are note cheap,

“Even a limited response to a small grass fire could run $2,000 to $5,000 and it’s a citable offense,” he said. “A

person could be held responsible for response costs.”

And that’s assuming it doesn’t develop into a major wildfire. The Funny River Fire that started on May 19 last

year on the Kenai Peninsula near Soldotna and burned almost 200,000 acres, forcing the evacuation of dozens

of homes, was a human-caused fire that is still under investigation, Goyette noted. The state spent about $15

million fighting the Funny River Fire, though almost all of that was reimbursed by the federal government

because the fire was on federal land, i.e. the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The bottom line, Goyette said, is that people shouldn’t be burning when conditions are dangerous and there is a burn

suspension in place.

“Red Flag Warnings and burn suspensions ae our way to prevent wildfires from occurring from human causes

and burning debris,” he said.

Campfires and approved burn barrels are not included in the burn suspension but the Division of Forestry

urges everyone to use caution when it comes to any kind of activity that could lead to a wildfire.

For more information about or to obtain a burn permit, or to check on the status of burn suspensions, call

your local forestry office or go online at

About Alaska Division of Forestry

Alaska Division of Forestry website: Mission: The Alaska Division of Forestry proudly serves Alaskans through forest management and wildland fire protection. The Wildland Fire and Aviation Program provides safe, cost-effective and efficient fire protection services and related fire and aviation management activities to protect human life and values on State, private and municipal lands. The wildland fire program cooperates with other wildland fire agencies on a statewide, interagency basis.

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