True Survival Story: Firewise & Fuel Breaks Helped Save Alaskans During Fast Moving McKinley Fire 2019

Alaskan wildfire survivor Pete Petram describes the terrifying moments he and his wife Sandy spent as flames crossed Hidden Hills Road while evacuating the explosive 2019 McKinley Fire.

“Sandy could feel the heat through the door as we drove through it. We left and didn’t know if our place was going to make it or not,” Pete said.

As Alaskans, we are all in this together. Homeowners spending the time to Firewise their properties, homes, businesses and cabins is critical. If you haven’t already, take steps now. Start by clearing debris, woodpiles and other flammable materials from within 5 feet of your home, building or business.

Pete and Sandy had worked hard to prepare for wildfire, and their home and outbuildings were saved because of the defensible spaces they created. Learn more at Firewise Alaska.

2019 McKinley Fire Video by DOF PIO Renette Saba.

Fire crews utilized the reduced fuel load of the Caswell fuels project, one of the dozens of projects in Alaska’s Hazards Fuel Program. The work included creating a 250-foot wide shaded fuels break along both sides of Hidden Hills Road. Mat-Su Area Fire Management Officer Phil Blydenberg recalled: “As the McKinley Fire spotted around the railroad tracks and the Hidden Hills Road area, initial attack crews were able to benefit from the reduced fuel load. Some of the debris piles within the fuel break area burned during the fire, but did not cause any issues as they were piled within the fuel break.” The second phase of this fuel break will begin this season. Learn as much as you can from the full McKinley Fire video featuring Pioneer Peak Interagency Hotshot Crew Superintendent Kris Baumgartner and Central Mat-Su Fire Department Battalion Chief Jake Boothby by clicking here

With the full support of Governor Mike Dunleavy, there is a significant increase in funding statewide to cut more fuel breaks such as the one in Caswell that played a part in saving Pete and Sandy’s lives in 2019. We will be sharing more of the progress that private contractors and wildland fire crews are making to reduce hazard fuels and beetle kill in Alaska both on the road system and in remote communities.

It is critically important that every Alaskan whether on the road system, in an urban area, a subdivision or in a remote village or area be prepared to evacuate from fast moving wildfires in Alaska.

As a reminder, burn permits are required from April 1 through August 31. You can pick up a burn permit online at or pick them up at your local forestry office and at many local fire departments.

Read more about protection areas, fire management plans and wildfire in Alaska here:

52 primary residences were destroyed in Caswell, Alaska by the fast moving 2019 McKinley Wildfire. Pete Petram’s structures survived. Watch the full story on DOF’s YouTube archive. Video by DOF PIO Renette Saba.

Categories: AK Fire Info, Alaska DNR - Division of Forestry (DOF), Fire Prevention, Firewise, Fuel Break Project

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