Structure fires spreading into Alaska’s wildlands have sparked at least 144 wildfires since 2015

Structure fires spreading into the wildlands are one of the leading “miscellaneous causes” of fast spreading wildfires in Alaska.

Between 2015 and 2022, Division of Forestry & Fire Protection suppression resources responded to 144 wildfires that were started by buildings catching on fire. Protecting homes and property is a major focus of wildland fire prevention efforts, however every season it does happen in reverse, and building fires cause wildfires. Modern building materials and household items contain vast amounts of stored energy that when released can easily spread beyond the building. In addition, everyday typical activities like stoking a woodstove, running hot water, doing laundry or even heating the chicken coop can also create opportunities for fire to ignite and rapidly spread to the outdoors as well. Taking steps to prevent these wildfires from occurring will go a long way in reducing the destruction caused by fast moving wildfires in Alaska. 

  • Best ways to prevent outbuilding fires.
  • Animal and bird pens should be checked for issues.

How does a burning building start a wildland fire? 

Direct Contact: The flames or embers make direct contact with an ignitable vegetation.  

Convection: The energy/gases emitted dries out and heats up nearby vegetation (grass, duff, branches, leaves) to the point of ignition.

Conductive: A hot item transfers heat energy, igniting another item such as a hot steel pipe in contact with dry grass. 

Radiation: Energy is transferred through electromagnetic waves.

How to protect wildlands from a structure or vehicle fire

  • Create as much as fuel break as possible around and between all buildings to avoid fire spreading from outwards into the grass and tree line. 
  • Stack firewood, fuel containers, propane and other flammable devices and materials away from any buildings and wildlands. 
  • Create a smoking area where cigarette butts can be extinguished in water and can’t fall between cracks in the decking into dry fuels. 
  • Check and clean woodstove chimneys to prevent stack fires. 
  • Install a spark arrestor on any woodstove or gas appliance venting pipes.  
  • Check exterior dryer vents periodically to ensure there is no build up of lint or debris in the exterior vents.  
  • Park vehicles, RV’s, ATVs and boats away from dried grass and brush. Check exhaust pipes before starting and don’t warm up in tall grass or brush. 
  • Weld, grind or solder on gravel pads, pavement or indoors and have a fire extinguisher within reach. Check work area for fires started by sparks or hot slag. 

One of the most important initial attack successes of the 2022 fire season occurred in the Hillside neighborhood of Anchorage on May 22nd. The structure fire pictured here in the Rabbit Creek area quickly spread into the surrounding private parcel causing numerous evacuations.  The Anchorage Fire Department and Mat-Su’s DOF helitack helicopter along with Palmer’s Gannett Glacier Initial Attack crew worked throughout the night to contain the fire by morning. This was a very close call remembered by all in the neighborhood and surrounding areas. 

  • Zircon Fire Started as Structure Fire Spread into Wildland
  • Mat-Su Helitack Assist AFD for Zircon Fire Anchorage
  • Anchorage Fire Department in Unified Command with DOF
  • Gannett Glacier Working Overnight on Zircon Fire

To prevent structure fires from causing wildfires, it is important to take steps to reduce the risk of building fires in the first place. This can include properly maintaining buildings and their electrical systems, keeping flammable materials away from heat sources, and having fire suppression systems in place.

It is also important to be aware of the risk of wildfires in your area and to take steps to prepare for them. This can include creating defensible space around your home, having an evacuation plan in place, and keeping a supply of emergency food and water on hand.

An Anchorage Fire Department member answers questions during the McHugh Fire Open House on Wednesday, July 27, 2016, at the incident command post. Sam Harrel/Alaska Division of Forestry

Overall, structure fires can be a major cause of wildfires, but there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk and prevent them from occurring. By being aware of the risks and taking appropriate precautions, we can help protect our homes and communities from the devastating effects of fast moving wildfires.

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

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