Grass fires in Mat-Su Valley are evidence that exposed fuels are ready to burn

The recent, rapid snow melt has ushered in the grass fire season in the Mat-Su Valley. Property owners need to get a Division of Forestry burn permit and follow the safe burning guidelines listed on it if they are burning yard debris, using a burn barrel or burning off their lawns.

A grass fire started by an escaped debris burn on East Burlwood Drive in Wasilla burned three vehicles and threatened nearby structures on Monday, April 19, 2021. Photo by Kevin Lankford/Alaska Division of Forestry.

Firefighters from the Mat-Su Area Forestry office in Palmer responded to two grass fires on Monday that were started by escaped debris burns, one of which drew a large response from the West Lakes Fire Department. Fortunately, no homes or structures were damaged and there were no injuries to the public or responding firefighters but the two incidents illustrate the dangers of burning prior to greenup.

The Burlwood Fire in Wasilla was reported at 9:55 a.m. on East Burlwood Drive. Multiple engines from the West Lakes and Central Mat-Su fire departments responded, in addition to two Forestry engines to ensure the fire did not spread to the wildlands. A preliminary investigation indicated the fire escaped a trash pile that was burning and spread into dry, exposed grass. The fire then spread to two other trash piles and three separate vehicles that were parked on the property, all of which were destroyed. Firefighters were able to keep it from spreading to nearby structures.

West Lakes Fire Department Assistant Chief Jimmy Keel inspects a burn pile at a property on East Burlwood Drive in Wasilla on Monday, April 19, 2021. Photo by Kristian Knutson/Division of Forestry.

The fire was declared contained and controlled at 12:14 p.m.

Residents on the property denied starting the fire and the fire remains under investigation.

A second grass fire started by an escaped debris burn was reported at 4:58 p.m. on East Hart Lake Loop between Palmer and Wasilla. Firefighters from the Central Mat-Su Fire Department responded along with two Forestry engines. Firefighters were able to quickly douse the fire and it was declared contained and controlled at 5:30 p.m.

The homeowner was issued a written warning for providing inadequate clearance down to mineral soil around a brush pile.

“Both these incidents are evidence that the recent snow melt has exposed dead, dry grass that is very receptive to any type of ignition source, making it critically important to follow the safe burning guidelines listed on small-scale burn permits,” said Mat-Su Area Fire Management Officer Phil Blydenburgh. “The dry grass combined with any kind of wind, even a slight breeze, can cause fires to spread rapidly.”

It’s imperative to have water and tools on hand to control the fire and never leave any fire, even those in burn barrels, unattended for even a short time, said Blydenburgh. It only takes a matter of a few seconds for a fire to spread out of control if you are not prepared.

Burn permits are free and are available at local Division of Forestry office, at many local fire departments and can  be printed off online at https://forestry.alaska.gov/burn.

Here are the safe burning guidelines listed on the permits. These same  guidelines also apply to campfires, even though you do not need a burn permit for a campfire less than 3 feet in diameter with flame lengths less than 2 feet high.

Safe Burning Guidelines

  • Small-scale burn permits are required for debris burning and the use of burn barrels from April 1 to August 31. To obtain a permit, go to http://forestry.alaska.gov/burn or stop in at your local Division of Forestry office.
  • Debris piles must be 10 feet in diameter or less and no more than 4 feet tall.
  • Burn only one debris pile at a time and keep the pile small and manageable, feeding the pile as you burn.
  • Construct a fire break 10 feet wide down to mineral soil around debris piles and at least 6 feet wide around burn barrels before lighting the fire.
  • Don’t burn during windy periods. Check your local area conditions by phone or go to http://forestry.alaska.gov/burn to make sure burning is allowed.
  • Never leave a fire of any kind unattended. Have at least 1 adult attend the fire at all times until the fire is completely out.
  • Have sufficient tools and water on site to control the fire and prevent it from spreading.
  • Do not burn debris piles or burn barrels within 30 feet of structures or under utility lines.
  • You are only allowed to burn paper, untreated wood, and organic debris in a burn barrel.
  • Burn piles must contain only untreated, unpainted wood and organic material.
  • If you plan on burning anything larger than a 10-foot diameter debris pile you must call the Alaska Division of Forestry to apply for a large-scale permit and a DOF prevention officer must inspect the pile before you burn.
  • Call 911 immediately if there is a wildland fire emergency.


Categories: Active Wildland Fire, AK Fire Info

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