Firefighters from the Alaska Division of Forestry and Homer Volunteer Fire Department responded to a small grass fire near Homer on Wednesday that was ignited by a discarded cigarette butt.
It was the first wildfire of the season on the Kenai Peninsula and illustrates how dry conditions are on the southern Peninsula around Homer, which is nearly snow free.
State Forestry firefighters were called to the fire off East Hill Road at 2:49 p.m. Wednesday. Firefighters from the Homer Volunteer Fire Department had the 30-foot-by-30-foot fire contained and controlled by the time Division of Forestry firefighters arrived 10 minutes later. The fire mostly burned in grass and scorched some low branches on some nearby trees.
A person on scene told State Forestry firefighters that he discarded a cigarette butt in the grass and extinguished it with his foot. He returned a few minutes later to find the grass burning and called the fire department, which then notified State Forestry personnel.
While much of northern Alaska is still covered in deep snow, that is not the case in Southcentral Alaska, where the snow is melting rapidly and exposing dried grass and other fuels. As a reminder, a State statute requiring Division of Forestry burn permits for the use of burn barrels and open debris burning went into effect on April 1, which is the official start of wildfire season in Alaska. Burn permits are available online and can be downloaded at https://dnr.alaska.gov/burn or are available outside local fire departments and State Forestry offices in Homer and Soldotna.
However, in anticipation of the impacts of COVID-19 on Alaska’s wildland firefighting resources this summer, the Division of Forestry will suspend all burn permits – both small- and large-scale – effective at midnight on April 30. It is expected that the effects of COVID-19 and associated travel restrictions and quarantine requirements could limit the availability of firefighting personnel in Alaska. Reducing the number of human-caused fires also will reduce potential exposure of COVID-19 to firefighters.
The use of burn barrels, the burning of debris piles, and any other outdoor burning activity authorized under previously issued burn permits will be prohibited on all state, private and municipal lands throughout Alaska as of May 1. Any person or business found to be violating this burn permit suspension order may be issued a citation to pay a fine or appear in court.
The statewide burn permit suspension that will take effect on May 1 will not include cooking, warming or signaling fires that are less than three feet in diameter with flame lengths no more than two feet high. It also will not include commercially manufactured outdoor cooking and heating devices with built-in open flame safety devices.
Residents are encouraged to do any burning now, when fire danger is low, before the statewide burn permit suspension goes into effect. Read and follow the safe burning guidelines on the permit to ensure you are burning safely and responsibly. Wildland fire suppression agencies need the public’s help more than ever to reduce the number of human-caused fires to keep firefighters and communities safe.
In addition to following the guidelines on the burn permit, those burning before May 1 should also continually monitor and constrain any burn piles, and when finished burning, ensure fires are completely extinguished and cold to the touch so they will not holdover, rekindle and escape as conditions grow warmer and drier.