Contractor completes mechanical work at Sunset Fuel Break over winter months

Hand crews to finish approximately 32.3 acres of treatment in sensitive riparian areas.

Ideal winter conditions have allowed Division of Forestry & Fire Protection’s fuels reduction program in Alaska to remain very active. Removing fuels with machines, typically referred to as mechanical or mechanized treatment, is often performed in the winter months by contractors. The snow cover and frozen ground is more supportive of the typical heavy mastication equipment contractors use. When conditions are ideal, vegetation is protected and the compaction of the soil and the residual trees root systems is minimized. To ensure that the project remained in compliance with appropriate permits, the snow and frost depths in the target work areas were monitored by project managers and the private contractor. With the urgency to complete fuel breaks before this summer’s wildfire season, the contractor took advantage of ongoing favorable conditions. Between January 10th and March 10th, contractor Alaska Hydro Ax completed the entire 112.9 acres of mechanical treatment portion of the Sunset Fuel Break.

  • Aerial view of mechanical treatment. Photo credit: Todd Mears/ Alaska Hydro Ax
  • Types of tracked heavy masticators used by the contractor. Photo credit: AK DOF/photos
  • Tracked heavy masticator used by contractor. Photo credit: AK DOF/photos
  • Close up of mastication system on contractor's heavy equipment.Photo credit: AK DOF/photos
  • View of work completed winter 2023. Photo credit: Todd Mears/ Alaska Hydro Ax

While work by hand crews remains ongoing, this represents a substantial milestone in efforts to protect the communities of Houston, Meadow Lakes and Wasilla. With a width of 200 feet, this fuel break is located along existing trails, seismic and section lines on state land north of the Little Susitna River. Protecting these communities from continuous fire prone fuels has long been a shared goal between the local communities and DOF. This area contains a high concentration of beetle killed spruce and before work began, there were few options to safely defend homes from a fast moving wildfire.

Aerial view of the Sunset Fuel Break courtesy of Todd Mears/ Alaska Hydro Ax 

This project utilizes two primary methods to separate the communities from the continuous fuels. The most striking is the 200-foot-wide mechanically chipped section. The second, less apparent, but equally important treatment is the shaded fuel breaks located within the five anadromous river corridors the project encounters. The shaded treatments will be completed by DOF’s firefighting staff, who will protect important habitat for salmon and other wildlife within riparian corridors by maintaining forest canopy cover while removing the hazardous fuel.  During the spring of 2022, Pioneer Peak Interagency Hotshot Crew started work on the shaded fuel break and completed approximately 3.5 acres before being assigned to wildfires in Alaska. Approximately 32.2 acres of hand treatment remains within the riparian and anadromous corridors. Both our Emergency Fire Fighter (EFF) wildland crews and our DOF wildland firefighters will work this spring and throughout the summer and fall until the work is completed. The combination of these two treatments results in a 6.2-mile-long fuel break that fire managers can use to defend the communities to the south while maintaining valuable habitat.

DOF anticipates that the future regrowth in this project area will be predominantly birch and other deciduous tree species, a conversion in forest types that will contribute to the long term efficacy of the fuel break. DOF will evaluate the regrowth for retreatment intervals in the future.



Completed work equals a total of 6.2 miles and 148.6 acres so far.

Of those 148.6 acres, 112.9 acres were mechanically treated and 35.7 shaded fuel breaks completed by hand crews. 

In 2022, hand crews completed 3.5 acres including burning 66 piles of slash.

There is a remaining 32.2 acres of hand treatment within the riparian and anadromous corridors to be completed.

1,114 total man hours were accomplished a mix of Pioneer Peak fire crew and EFF Fire crews in 2022 including layout for mechanical work.

Mechanized work on the Sunset fuel break began January 10, 2023 and was completed on March 10, 2023.

This is one of many hazardous fuels reduction programs that are being funded in Alaska, at least in part, by the availability of 17 million dollars from the Capital Improvement Program (CIP).  

Before work began, this is what the density of continuous trees looked like. The Sunset Fuel Break project with recent mechanized completion separates and protects the communities of Meadow Lakes and Houston from continuous fire prone fuels. – archive video DOF

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

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