Alaska News

Fishermen In the Dark About King Limits

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-18 18:12

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There are less than two weeks to go before the traditional start of the summer king salmon trolling season, on July 1st — but fishermen in Southeast don’t know yet how many kings they’ll be allowed to catch. Representatives on the Pacific Salmon Commission are deadlocked — they can’t agree how many king salmon are out there. And that has put this year’s king salmon season in jeopardy.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 18, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-18 18:09

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Small Part of Card Street Fire Under Control

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai
A very small portion of the Card Street Fire on the Kenai Peninsula is under control, and the evacuation notice for a couple neighborhoods has been lifted. The fires continue to move east, into the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and away from residential areas.

Sockeye Fire Starting to “Cooperate”

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage
Officials say the Sockeye fire burning near Willow is beginning to “cooperate.” Incident Commander Tom Kurth says the total acreage burning is just over 7,000 [7,066], a slight drop from yesterday, although that’s in part due to better mapping of the fire’s perimeter. The full number of fire fighters on scene is approaching 600.

Healy Lake Fire Doubles In Size

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Several wildfires are burning in the interior, including a growing blaze east of Delta Junction. Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry says the Healy Lake fire made a major push west toward Delta beginning late Wednesday night and increased in size from 2,000 to up to 6,000 acres.

Juneau Protesters Rally Against Shell’s Arctic Plans

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau
A crowd of about 40 gathered in the drizzling rain outside Juneau’s federal building this afternoon to protest Royal Dutch Shell’s oil rig, the Polar Pioneer. The vessel left Seattle on Monday after weeks of public outcry.

Six Cruise Ships Release Treated Sewage into Harbors

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Did you know some cruise ships are allowed to discharge wastewater while anchored or tied up in port? State officials and industry representatives say it’s safe. But critics fear it’s fouling local harbors.

Fishermen In the Dark About King Limits

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

There are less than two weeks to go before the traditional start of the summer king salmon trolling season, on July 1st  — but fishermen in Southeast don’t know yet how many kings they’ll be allowed to catch. Representatives on the Pacific Salmon Commission are deadlocked — they can’t agree how many king salmon are out there. And that has put this year’s king salmon season in jeopardy.

Mat-Su Residents To Learn About Their Homes in Wake of Sockeye

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The Mat-Su Borough government planned to meet individually with residents who evacuated the Sockeye fire Thursday to tell them if their homes are still standing. Some already know.

Kids Gather in Tanana to Learn Some Basketball and Life Skills

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Kids from several villages and Fairbanks are gathered in the Yukon village community of Tanana this weekend for a basketball camp that seeks to do more than just help young people brush up on their bucket skills.

Categories: Alaska News

Kids Gather in Tanana to Learn Some Basketball and Life Skills

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-18 18:00

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Kids from several villages and Fairbanks are gathered in the Yukon river community of Tanana this weekend for a basketball camp that seeks to do more than just help young people brush up on their bucket skills.

The training is being conducted by Damen Bell Holter, a young man who grew up in Hydaburg, played basketball in Ketchikan and knows well the struggles some kids in rural Alaska experience. Cynthia Erickson got the event lined up. She lives in the Athabascan community of Tanana and works with young people struggling with abuse and addiction in their families. She says 40 kids are attending from Manley, Fairbanks, Anvik, Tanana and other communities.

“So it’s just an inspiring opportunity for all these kids and everything they’ve heard about Damen and his camps is just really positive,” Erickson said.

Erickson says she was pleased with the high turn out which is more than the entire student body of the Tanana school. She says Damen heard of the presentation that young people from Tanana made to the AFN convention in Anchorage last year. They spoke out about the pain of dysfunction in their families and communities and he reached out to Erickson, wanting to help.

Holter played for the Celtics and now plays for a team in Turkey. He started sponsoring the camps to help kids know they can aspire to better outcomes for their lives. Erickson says during the weekend they’ll hand out pledge cards that ask kids to honor and protect themselves and others and stand together to stop suicide.

“On the back of it, it has ‘ need help keeping your pledge, contact the care line and then it has the 800 number on it, so we hand that out at all of the things that the kids go to,” Erickson said. “And we tell em, put your name on there, take that pledge and if you have trouble there’s a number on there to call.”

Erickson formed a 4H group to start getting kids into positive activities but she said some are dealing with such trauma, cutting themselves or contemplating suicide, that she instead formed a non profit called, My Grandma’s House.

She says the idea that it’s bad luck to talk about suicide is wrong. Erickson says it must be discussed and that won’t promote more self harm but she prepares the young people she works with for the prospect of future suicides.

“It’s not because we’ve started talking about it. We’re saving…if we lose one, that’s a day we’ll have to deal with but we really are changing the way things have been.”

She says there hasn’t been a suicide in Tanana in five years, but she’s dealt with more than that number in her own life and the Trooper shootings in Tanana last year took a heavy emotional toll on the community. Erickson says she tells the kids, it took decades of dysfunction to get to this point and it will take time to turn it around, but she stresses it’s not difficult to help kids feel better about themselves. It doesn’t take money, it takes time.

“We’ll be picking berries or cutting moose meat or jarring fish, they’re just tickled to do anything and they feel so good, they bring their jam home or we do raffles and they do a little jam basket and they just enjoy the time and the learning and that’s the whole missing link is, the key to this is family and time,” she said.

Erickson says the Damen Bell Holter’s basketball camp will work with elementary kids in the mornings and high school kids in the afternoons through the weekend. In the evenings, a community picnic, swimming, tubing and a spaghetti feed are also planned.

Categories: Alaska News

Small Part of Card Street Fire Under Control

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-18 17:30

A very small portion of the Card Street Fire on the Kenai Peninsula is under control, and the evacuation notice for a couple neighborhoods has been lifted. The fires continue to move east, into the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and away from residential areas.

“Everyday it’s getting more and more contained,” said Terry Anderson  one of the public information officers for the
Division of Forestry. He’s been giving regular updates over lunch at the Sterling Community Center and Thursday there was finally some good news. In some of the neighborhoods that were evacuated, crews are now working on the smaller spot fires, and people can finally get back to their homes, at least for now.

“There’s a whole division of guys that work on that all day long and they grid it. They walk back and forth and back and forth and yeah, you can miss it, but it’s rare because that’s what they’re doing on a daily basis,” he said.

In all, more than 250 firefighters are working the Card Street Fire. It’s the number one priority fire in the country, at least at the moment. Crews caught a break Wednesday night as the wind pushed the now 9,000 acre fire into the wilderness of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. But Refuge Fire Management Officer Kristi Bulock says this is not a situation where they
want to simply let the fire burn itself out.

“This is an unwanted fire,” Bulock said. “This fire has the potential, if it crosses the Sterling Highway with the right conditions, it could actually come back in to the north side of Sterling and we absolutely do not want that to happen. The goal is to stop the fire. There’s just too much risk to communities.”

Over in Cooper Landing, residents were also breathing a little easier, but still keeping a sharp eye the 300 acre Juneau Lake Fire and the closer, 100-acre Stetson Creek Fire.

Dan Michels is the General Manager at the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge in Cooper Landing. Besides worrying about his own house, he’s got nearly 200 guests who probably didn’t see this in any travel brochures.

*Michels: “All the guests coming in, it’s like ‘keep your tooth brush handy and your medication and what do you do?” (0:10)*

He says they have their own plan to get people out safely, but those fire sare also being kept more or less in check. They’re both the result of lightning strikes earlier in the week.

“And then all of a sudden, crrrrack. And that was that. That started it. They knew which one it was.”

A Type-2 management team is on site for those fires and will take over operations tomorrow. At least 40 additional fire fighters are also expected. The Stetson Creek fire has been relying mostly on air support, as its position on a hillside makes fighting from the ground much more difficult. There’s no cost estimate on those fires, but the Card Street
Fire is now running at more than $160,000 a day, totaling just over a $1 million.

Categories: Alaska News

Landless Natives Bill Gets First Hearing Before Congress

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-18 15:11

U.S. Rep. Don Young poses in his office with Sealaska board member Richard Rinehart, left, and landless spokesman Leo Barlow, right. Barlow and Rinehart were lobbying this week for Young’s landless Natives legislation. (Photo Courtesy Rep. Don Young’s office.)

A bill creating corporations for Native residents of five “landless” Southeast Alaska communities had its first hearing in Congress today.

Haines, Petersburg, Wrangell, Ketchikan and Tenakee were left out of 1971’s Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. That bill gave land, money and corporate status to those in many other Alaska communities.

Wrangell’s Leo Barlow represented landless residents at the hearing, before the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.

“Those of us who enrolled to these five communities during the ANCSA process did so because they are our traditional homelands and places of origin. Our families and clans originated in these communities and have lived here for hundreds if not thousands of years,” Barlow said.

He said about 3,500 Tlingits and Haidas were affected. They still became shareholders of the Sealaska regional Native corporation.

Congressman Don Young, who authored the legislation, chaired the committee hearing. Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced asimilar bill earlier this year. Sealaska is also lobbying for its passage.

A report by the University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research found no clear reason why the five communities were excluded, other than Congressional intent.

Federal officials continue to oppose inclusion, saying it would break precedent and allow others to follow suit.

At the hearing, Young said the timber industry lobbied Congress before ANCSA passed because it wanted to keep more of the Tongass National Forest available for logging.

“The communities involved here had large lumbering, timbering operations. And there was effort put into this Congress at that time not to recognize them because it might have affected the long-term leases for that timber,” Young said.

Similar legislation has been introduced more than a half-dozen times.

Supporters have suggested it would only get serious consideration after a bill turning Tongass timberlands over to Sealaska passed.

That happened last year.

Categories: Alaska News

Zip Tie Polar Bears Adorn The Place of the Future-Ancient

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-18 14:45

Allison Warden models the beginnings of her whaling suit. (Photo by: Anne Hillman-KSKA)

How do you connect with the past and the future at the same time? For one artist, the start is through polar bear hides made of zip ties and an ancient Inupiaq whaling suit made of flexible plastic mesh. Allison Warden speaks about her newest project, The Place of the Future-Ancient.

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Sitting in the Alaska Gallery at the Anchorage Museum, surrounded by historical images and dioramas, a volunteer pulls translucent zip ties through heavy black plastic mesh. The zipping repeats over and over as he methodically covers every intersection.

The beginnings of one of Warden’s polar bear hides. (Photo by: Anne Hillman, KSKA)

The plastic is meant for covering crab pots, but artist Warden has cut it into the shape of a polar bear hide. At this stage, the three long rows of ties make it look like a punk rock skunk fur. It will take about 360 hours–eight solid work weeks–to complete the task. Warden says the process reflects the work of her Inupiat ancestors.

“We did have a lot of crafts and different things that we created that have a similar tedious nature to it, where you’re just doing the same motion. Very repetitive, meditative motion to create something that you need for your survival and your life.”

But the object itself refers to the future. “The deeper reflection as you see a plastic polar bear hide is a reflection of the state of the polar bear today and what it might be in 50 years.”

And beyond. Well beyond, into what Warden calls the Hyper-Future. She plans to make three more hides with the same arduous process. She’s also using zip ties to hold together a full-body whaling suit, modeled after those used by her ancestors.

“We would be able to butcher whales half submerged in the ocean in these scuba suits,” she explains. “And it would be waterproof and watertight up to your face. So you would basically be submerged up to your chest.”

But Warden’s modernizing the materials, in part because working with bearded seal skin is difficult, especially in the middle of the museum where she’s demonstrating her craft. She also doesn’t want to wear a hot skin suit for two months solid when performing in her upcoming show, Unipkaagusiksuguvik: The Place of the Future-Ancient.

She says to imagine that time isn’t a line, it’s a circle. And in the place where the far future connects with the ancient past is an Inupiat ceremonial house filled with ancient objects made of modern materials, like neon paints and glow in the dark beads. That’s where Warden’s identity lives — connected to her past but also to her future.

“It’s the place where myths are born. It’s the birth place of the old, old stories.”

And it’s a place of language. For the two-month-long exhibit, Warden will only speak Inupiat. She says she’s always wanted to be proficient and this project gives her a two-year deadline.

Visitors won’t understand her words necessarily, but they will be able to communicate through body language, expressions, and art– things that transcends the past, the future, and the mythical space in between.

Warden’s show opens in October of 2016. She’s currently creating the pieces as a demonstration in the Anchorage Museum through 6 pm on Friday. She’ll return next summer as well.

Categories: Alaska News

Healy Lake Fire Doubles In Size

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-18 13:39

The Healy Lake Fire Tuesday night. Credit: Division of Forestry

Several wildfires are burning in the interior, including a growing blaze east of Delta Junction. Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry says the Healy Lake fire made a major push west toward Delta beginning late Wednesday night and at least doubled in size from 2,000 to 4,000 acres.

“It sort of switched directions last night around midnight and it did bump up against the Tanana river and it spotted across the Tanana river,” he said.

Mowry says officials are working today to get a more accurate map of how much the fire has grown. He credits fire fighters with stopping the fire’s advance across the river, toward Delta.

“Forestry personnel and volunteer fire departments, a load of hotshots that were in Delta, they responded. They had a couple bulldozers out there and they were able to get these spot fires that spotted over into a stringer of spruce,” he said.

Mowry says an area of agricultural fields shields Delta from the fire area, but managers want to keep the flames east of the Tanana River.

Firefighters are also working to protect recreational cabins along the lake. The uninhabited village of Healy Lake is on the opposite side of the water from the fires, and is not threatened.

Another lightning caused wildfire well north of Healy Lake is being allowed to burn. Mowry says it a matter of resources and priorities.

“Were going to keep an eye on it but we don’t currently have the resources to address that fire and… there are no structures threatened,” he said.

The Michigan Creek fire is listed as 30 acres.

A lightning start, this time west of Fairbanks was a priority Wednesday night. Mowry says a forestry patrol spied the Standard Valley fire from a nearby hilltop.

“A crew doing a patrol up on Ester Dome, they spotted that fire, and we were able to jump on it really quickly… and that was a really good catch because that fire could have started getting some life.”

The Standard Valley Fire was halted at about 3.5 acres.

Meanwhile, the Tanana Slough Fire near Dot Lake is now 30 percent contained. The fire increased slightly to 718 total acres Wednesday but remains on an island in the Tanana River.

Categories: Alaska News

Sockeye Evacuees Still Waiting To Go Home

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-18 11:17

A community meeting at Houston Middle School drew more than 200 people of all ages on Wednesday evening. Matanuska Susitana Borough officials, along with the state’s incident management team, were there to answer questions from burned out homeowners as to what’s next.

A curtain down the center of the school gym separated those at the meeting from Sockeye fire evacuees who were living in the Red Cross shelter located at the school.

The curtain did little to drown out the sound of a basketball bouncing and doors slamming on the other side, although meeting-goers were quiet and respectful, while a roster of state and local fire officials explained what their jobs entail, and how they are working with the fire response team to get the fire contained and ultimately put out.

That objective may be a long time in coming. Russ Long, fire operations section chief from Fairbanks, who arrived on scene Monday, spoke about the tactics and strategy of fighting the blaze:

“You can’t approach it from the heel and just work one side or the other. This is one, because of the homes inside, the infrastructure, we have to fight it from the inside out and from all ends.”

Long said crews are launching a two punch attack from within and without the fire perimeter

“We have firefighters in all geographic locations around the fire. And they are currently doing multiple things. They are inside the black around your homes and in your neighborhoods working hard from your structure moving out.. getting in hose with water tenders, drafting out of the lakes, getting water from wherever we can bring it in fire engines. And then we work from the structure moving out, taking away all of the heat, so that when trees fall over they won’t torch and make other embers and get near other homes and then catch a deck or firewood and cause more problems.”

Long said, conditions look better than they did when he arrived. The Sockeye fire gained less than fifty acres on between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.“But don’t mistake that for the fire is almost out.” he said. Looks can deceive, and he commented that Alaska fires go underground and smolder, even when appear to be out.

Crews will be working from within to locate those smoldering areas, Tom Kurth, incident commander, said. He said 500 people are working on the fire’s interior at present

“But we need to be able to work inside this fire perimeter with a minimal amount of interference,, and that is why we are holding on to this evacuation order. Now, first we will try to open up some areas up, such as the Fishhook Road area and the North and South of the fire perimeter. So we’ll shrink this evacuation area down here shortly. ”

Kurth says fire officials are working with state and local law enforcement to maintain the evacuation order.

Casey Cook, Mat Su Borough emergency services manager, said the Borough started neighborhood damage assessments on Wednesday. He told homeowners that they can leave their phone numbers with a list of Borough property tax id’s he provided at the meeting, so that the Borough can call each homeowoner back and tell them whether their house is still standing.

“Cause that’s really what I want to get out as soon as possible to you folks, so you can start the recovery process. I’m having a meeting with the state of Alaska public assistance and individual assistance tomorrow (Thursday) morning. Those are the groups that run the recovery funding, and how that works.
And so, as we go, and we’ll have some more community meetings, and as those start to take shape we’ll have disaster recovery centers and you can come in and fill out the applications.”

A question and answer session followed the informational portion of the meeting. To one man’s complaint that the Borough process is taking too long, Cook responded

” I’m not going to risk firefighters lives to tell you if your building is still standing. That’s what it comes down to. When we get the information to give you if your house is still standing or not, I will call you to tell you that’s happened.”

And the big question? What caused the fire? Tom Kurth said, details about an investigation are confidential at this time, although , to questions regarding fireworks, he answered, “we are focused on that very thing.”

Officials say that 120 more firefighters are expected to be on the ground by Thursday. I’m Ellen Lockyer

Categories: Alaska News

Card Street Fire Grows to 9,000 Acres; Moves Away from Residential Areas Along River

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-18 09:49

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Update: Thursday, June 18th, 10:45 am.

Now at 9,000 acres, the Card Street fire on the Kenai Peninsula has been pegged as the number one fire priority in the nation.

The fire continues pushing south and east, into the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. More than 800 structures in residential areas are still under threat and 11 have been destroyed.

Division of Forestry spokesperson Andy Alexandrou says more than 250 firefighters are on the scene. And with the number of fires going on across the state, resources are being stretched thin.

“We have major going fires out of Willow, out of Fairbanks, out of Delta, out of Tok, some fires out in the Galena country, out in the McGrath country,” Alexandrou said. “So it’s a combination of a whole bunch of things that add up to we need some help, let us get some overhead teams in from the Lower 48 so our regular fire fighters can get back into initial attack mode.”

Two fires at Cooper Landing were kept mostly in check last night, following a series of water dumps by air tankers and helicopters.

The Stetson Creek Fire is approximately 100 acres and the Juneau Lake fire is a little less than 300 acres.

A Type 2 Management Team will be in place by Friday, along with two additional crews of 20 firefighters each.

Update: Thursday, June 18th. 9:00 am.

The Card Street Fire on the Kenai Peninsula has grown to more than 9,000 acres.

More ground and support personnel are arriving, and the fire has pushed east into the Skilak Lake area. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge ordered an evacuation of all the campgrounds along Skilak Lake Road.

The Type-2 management team has arrived in Sterling and will be coordinating operations today.

Update: Wednesday, June 17. 10:00 pm.

According to the Alaska Interagency Fire Coordination Office west winds continue driving the Card Street fire towards the north shore area of Skilak Lake. The fire has crossed Skilack Loop Road, prompting the Department of transportation to close the road and evacuate the nearby recreation area. Suppression efforts in the area are ongoing.

Update: Wednesday, June 17. 5:10 pm.

The Card Street Fire has burned 11 structures and had spread to 3,000 acres, according to Terry Anderson of the Division of Forestry. The fire on Wednesday was driven by westerly winds which were pushing flames into the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in the direction of Skilak Lake Loop Road. The area is a popular recreation area, but the campgrounds near Skilak Lake have been cleared.

The fire was moving away from residential areas on the banks of the Kenai River.

There are 175 firefighters working to put out the fire, Anderson said in a release.

Firefighters had been dispatched from the Kenai Borough, Alaska Division of Forestry, Alaska Smokejumpers, Selawik, Idaho and Montana.

Favorable winds, a lot of water and good preparation by property owners kept the damage limited to one structure Tuesday night, Anderson said.

“The fire made a major run to the west,” he said. “It jumped Kenai Keys and came into the subdivision with lots of sparks and embers and trees torching, and it was a battle for a good solid three hours or so. It was supported by air tankers dropping loads of retardants right next to houses trying to support the firefighters. A lot of success.”

Anderson said additional administrative and ground support were expected to arrive on the scene.

“There’s a lot of tired firefighters out there right now, so to be supplemented by a management team or more fire crews is what we all need right now. We have about 125 new firefighters hit the ground today [Wednesday]. More have been ordered and I expect to see more coming.”

Update: Wednesday, June 17. 10:30 am. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is putting federal money behind the effort to fight the Card Street Fire in Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula.

The fire is now five percent contained.

At least 300 people have been evacuated, mostly in the Fueding Lane and Kenai Keys areas. Hundreds of homes are potentially in the path of the fire, many of them primary homes. Three homes have been destroyed so far, ten structures in total. The fire has consumed more than 2,500 acres.

Hot Shot crews arrived Tuesday night and a Type-2 Management Team was expected to take over operations Wednesday afternoon. There are 28 uncontrolled fires within the state which has burned over 70,000 acres to date.

Update: Wednesday, June 17. 6:30 am.

Fire crews were kept busy on the central Kenai Peninsula Tuesday night, keeping an eye on the Card Street Fire to prevent it from spreading to homes in the Kenai Keys areas, and attacking two new fires in the Copper Landing area.

Lightning was pegged as the culprit for the new fires, both near Milepost 51 of the Sterling Highway. The Alaska Division and Forestry and the Forest Service initially focused on the fire near Juneau Lake along Resurrection Pass Trail, north of the Sterling Highway.

The other is burning on the south side of the highway on a steep mountainside in the Russian Lakes area. That fire was about 20 acres when crews reached the area, but Andy Alexandrou, with the Division of Forestry, said Tuesday that the Russian Lake Fire is “gobbling” — moving fast up steep terrain near power lines, the Sterling Highway, and some residences.

No lightning strikes were recording in Sterling on Tuesday, but dry conditions and variable winds continue to hinder firefighting efforts. The Card Street Fire, which began Monday afternoon, had grown to just over 2,000 acres, or 3 square miles, by Tuesday evening. The fire has damaged or destroyed at least 10 structures in eastern Sterling, three of them houses.

Hot spots appeared across the Kenai River in last year’s Funny River Fire burn area Tuesday, but crews have been able to contain them. Air tankers continue to dump retardant as a barrier between the fire’s edge and homes, with helicopters dumping water in more targeted operations.

Residents are keeping a close eye on the fire, as well. Many have evacuated, with the Sterling Community Center serving as a shelter and hub for relief efforts. Not everyone is heeding the evacuation request, however.

Kurt and Tammy Strausbaugh stayed in their house Monday night and watched the flames come to within a half mile from their back deck.

“I’ve got a good 50-foot buffer around at least most of my home, but our home is made of wood and our deck is really kindling dry, just like everything else is right now,” Kurt said.

The Strausbaughs live about one-third of a mile down Card Street off the Sterling Highway. They had everything packed up and moved out Monday, and were ready to move themselves is need be.

“We just hunkered down. We’re so close to the highway, if the flames would have come onto our property we already had the vehicles pointed down the street,” he said. “We would be able to get out, put it that way.”

Alexandrou said that a hot shot crew was scheduled to arrive on the scene Tuesday night, and a Type 2 management team is expected to take over operations Wednesday morning.

More air support is on the way, as well, including two Black Hawk helicopters from the National Guard and a Canadian CL-215 scoop aircraft.

Categories: Alaska News

Sockeye Fire Map for Thursday Shows Reduced Acreage

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-18 07:27

Sockeye fire map released Thursday morning shows the fire area at 7,066 acres, as of Wednesday mid-day.

Categories: Alaska News

Sockeye Fire Evacuees to Learn Fate of Homes Today

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-18 07:04

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough government says it’s conducted its damage assessment of the Sockeye Fire zone and plans to meet individually with residents this afternoon (Thursday) to report the state of their property and if their homes are still standing. The sessions will be between 1 and 7 p.m. at the Houston Middle School. The Borough says it will have mental health professionals on site.

Categories: Alaska News

As Fires Burn, Agencies Coordinate Helicopters to Gift Cards for Relief

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-17 18:21

Combating the wildfires breaking out across the Alaska involves a mix of local, state, and federal resources. But amid organizational and financial complexities, most of the immediate needs on the ground are quite basic.

A level below ground in the National Guard Armory at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, the State’s Emergency Operation Center is a hive of computer monitors, flat-screen TVs, and telephones.

“Our job is not to fight fires,” said Michael O’Hare, Director of the state’s Emergency Management division. “Our job is to make sure the fire-fighters are putting the fires out.”

Front-line fire fighting is overseen by the Division of Forestry–they’re the ones calling in crews of hot-shots or phoning into the National Guard for helicopters.

By contrast, the EOC feels a bit like a big tent, with representatives fielding phone calls and connecting folks in the Mat-Su or Kenai Boroughs with things they need right away: cots, blankets, pillows, sanitation kits.”

The Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management also handles the next phase of the recovery process: Disaster Assistance. That phase started Wednesday, as Borough officials went out with state Troopers to do windshield checks, spotting which properties are damaged. That information will eventually be used by the state in providing funds to home-owners for repairs, and bringing in Federal FEMA money if the destruction is beyond the Borough or state’s ability to pay.

“Natural disasters are always very expensive, particularly in Alaska,” said Bryan Fisher, who, as Incident Manager, is at the nexus for all the agencies and levels of government involved. He and his staff wear red vests so that outside partners can tell who’s on the emergency management team. Surrounded by logistics and complexity, Fisher insists his job is simple: support the local jurisdictions.

At the center of all this is Bryan Fisher, who wears a red vest so that officials from a wide array of outside agencies know he’s part of the emergency management team. Fisher says his job is simple: support the local jurisdictions.

In a complicated crisis situation, just having the room and the know-how to coordinate is key. Emergency managers handling the wildfires are on-call for 12-hour shifts seven days a week. Fisher says having the capacity to navigate all the available resources frees up front-line crews, dealing with everything from fire suppression to evacuations.
“The state of Alaska does not forcibly evacuate anybody, from from anywhere,” Fisher said. “If the homeowner or resident chooses not to leave, (firefighters) take information down on who they are, where they are, and next of kin to be able to notify if, godforbid, something should happen.”

Those serious conversations are a huge challenge.

“The firefighter’s primary mission is to save lives and protect property. And having to be a stranger and come in to say ‘we need you to leave now and if you don’t you’re on your own because we have to protect ourselves, and protect all the rest of the property and homeowners in the area where the fire is’ is (a) very, very difficult conversation to have.”

Officials and relief workers are seeing donations come in, but want Alaskans to know that not all charity is equal when it comes to having the best impact.

Relief agencies helping the state manage shelter and aid refer to something called “the disaster within the disaster.” What they mean is that well-meaning Alaskans rush out to donate goods that end up being more of a burden than a help.

“The thing there’s too much of right now is clothing,” said Tom Gemmel, who works with the Red Cross, which is helping take care of the more than 90 evacuees staying at a shelter in Houston. Red Cross and other groups like the Salvation Army connect individuals with particular needs like eye-glasses, medications, and short-term housing. But they do it through gift certificates and deals with hotels–which depend on cash.

If you want to help but don’t feel comfortable opening your wallet, you should still probably keep the green-beans and old sheets on the shelf.

“The best thing people can do,” Gemmel explained, “is prepare themselves for disaster, because you’re pretty useless as a disaster volunteer if you’re worried about your own family.”

Once the state begins its damage assessment phase, officials will have a clearer picture of specific needs.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Supreme Court Hears Juneau-Petersburg Boundary Beef

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-17 16:13

The state Supreme Court heard arguments in a local boundary case Wednesday morning that could redraw lines around a Delaware-sized chunk of Southeast Alaska.

The contested land is almost completely uninhabited national forest – Juneau “estimated” the population at one – but with the land goes potential federal receipts, some property and sales tax revenue, and local authority.

Within five minutes of Juneau’s attorney beginning her arguments in the Alaska Supreme Court, Chief Justice Dana Fabe interrupted with this question:

“Given that the LBC [Local Boundary Commission] has the discretion not to consolidate, and has even the discretion whether to consider relevant information from concurring or conflicting petitions, and given you haven’t challenged the constitutionality of that regulation or even challenged the LBC’s exercise of its discretion in how it proceeded, why doesn’t that end the case?”

There’s a lot of technical legal stuff that could be unpacked in that question, but the takeaway is that Fabe was wondering out loud if Juneau had a case at all.

The boundary beef stems from Petersburg’s dissolution as a city and reincorporation as a geographically much bigger borough in 2013. Its northern border now comes to Holkham Bay, where Tracy and Endicott arms empty into Stephens Passage.

The usual authority on these matters, the state’s Local Boundary Commission, cut about 500 square miles of land around Tracy Arm from Petersburg’s original annexation request. It was a concession to Juneau, where tourism connections made it a better fit, commissioners said.

But Juneau wants an additional 1,500 square miles excluded from the Petersburg Borough and argues it has better claims to those lands and waterways that weren’t properly considered by the commission.

Mead noted the commission itself supported Juneau in the contested area in a boundary study last revised in 1997. The justices asked several questions trying to parse out exactly what Juneau alleges the Local Boundary Commission did wrong. Eventually, Juneau attorney Amy Mead summed it up like this:

“What we’re saying is that the analysis that they engaged in, which is apparent from a reading of that decisional document, is constitutionally infirm. That is our argument.”

She argued the analysis was weak specifically with respect to Article X, Section 3 of the state constitution that says, “Each borough shall embrace an area and population with common interests to the maximum degree possible.”

“Article X is properly understood as a rough guideline.”

That’s state attorney Janell Hafner, representing the Local Boundary Commission.

“It is not a rigid blueprint,” Hafner said. “It is not a standalone, fixed mandate that directs what a borough boundary must look like at any one point. Nor does it direct the manner in which the commission evaluates the decision among competing boundaries is the best fit.”

She and Jim Brennan, the attorney for Petersburg, both argued that the commission properly weighed the competing claims and acted within its authority.

Brennan took particular offense to Juneau’s assertion that the commission limited its participation in the annexation proceedings. He noted a 58-page report by the Juneau Economic Development Council.

“That was considered. Petersburg rebutted it,” Brennan said. “Petersburg went through a point by point rebuttal of that study. And also showed that Petersburg’s commercial fishing connections to that area were substantially greater.”

Petersburg fisherman are responsible for more than 90 percent of commercial haul from the contested area; Juneau businesses and residents own most of the private land.

The commission also held a 3-day hearing in Petersburg on the competing annexations in 2012 that Brennan attended.

“I must have been at a different proceeding than was discussed by Juneau. … The main question was, ‘Who’s got the greater connections, Juneau or Petersburg?’ That’s what the hearing was all about. Juneau brought down 10 witnesses. They were not precluded from presenting anything.”

Justice Craig Stowers asked, if Juneau prevails, what can the court do to satisfy Juneau?

Mead said Juneau doesn’t want to force Petersburg to revert to city status, but the court could order the commission to revisit the competing annexation claim with more evidence and more hearings.

The court usually publishes its decisions within 9 months hearing arguments.


Categories: Alaska News

2015 Alaskan Wildfire Tally is Below Normal

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-17 16:08

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So far this year, about 78,000 acres have burned in 280 fires in Alaska. That may sound like a lot, but it’s actually below normal. That’s according to Pete Buist, a public information officer for the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center. Buist has worked on fires in Alaska and the rest of the country for 48 seasons.

Buist says the fire season in the state usually unfolds in a predictable pattern.

Lori: How does this season compare to other years in Alaska? 

Pete: It’s early, actually closing in on mid-season. Year-to-date acres is 78,000, year-to date-number of fires is 280 –that’s fairly low compared to busy years, that’s fairly low. Early in the season, we have a lot of fires that are human caused fires and later in the season, lightening caused, that happens about now, it actually a little late this year. So we’re on the low side in terms of numbers of starts and numbers of acres.

Lori: Is that surprising given how dry it is? Didn’t have a lot of snow last winter and dry spring, were you anticipating it would be worse by this time?

Pete: At my age, I don’t anticipate, I wait and see what happens, however we have folks, it’s called the predictive services section, who do computer models and they had predicted a pretty busy season, not just in Alaska but through the Lower 48, so they had predicted a heavy season. That has not transpired so far, but interestingly, for example, this is very much the way 2004 started out which turned out to be our record year, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 million acres burning in Alaska alone.

Lori: Are there signs we could be heading toward something similar?

Pete: I don’t think so. We’re busy right now, we’re not as busy as we get, but we’re busy and the lightning season is coming on, we’re obviously going to get busier for a while, but despite the dire predictions, there’s really no way to accurately come up with what’s going to happen next week, much less what’s going to happen next month. And normally by a month from now, our fire season is pretty much over.

Lori: What about the location of the fires? Are there more fires burning farther south this year?

Pete: That is something that I’ve observed, that there is a little more activity in Southcentral Alaska, normally places like the Kenai and the Mat-Su, the fire danger is the greatest between breakup and green up and when we’ve got wind in the spring, that sort of thing, it’s very busy down there, this year that seems to have extended a bit farther into the season.

Lori: How unusual is it to have several fires threatening primary structures?

Pete: It’s fairly unusual in Alaska just because we don’t have that many built up areas. But certainly there is some pressure on the fire suppression agencies because of the fires that happen to be by built up areas.

Lori: You have the perspective of a long tenure in fire work, working on fire information, based on what’s happening right now, how worried are you for the rest of the summer?

Pete: As I say, by a month from now, normally we’re into more precipitation and lightning becomes less of a problem. I have no reason to think that won’t happen this year, but I suspect we’re going to have a busy two or three weeks before we get to that point.

Lori: We saw burn bans coming out, being put in place just yesterday, which seems puzzling, in a dry spring and early summer like this, why isn’t most of the state under a burn ban already?

Pete: Well, the conditions vary from one place to another and until we have a problem, we don’t like to restrict people. If it gets to the point where our initial attack resources are a little thin and we’re adamant that we don’t need any more new starts and we’ve got some lightning fires, we don’t like to tell people that you can’t burn or you can’t do this or that, people in Alaska are better than people in lots of places about not doing unsafe things, so we’d rather not restrict people but if it gets to the point we have to, we will.

Lori: That’s an interesting point that people here seem to be more fire aware and make better decisions about making sure their campfires are out. Is that what you’re saying?

Pete: That’s been my experience, we all do lots of camping, lots of fishing and we have campfires and know how to take care of them, but in any subset of the population, there’s that few percentage points of folks who are not that careful and they’re the ones that cause the problems.

Lori: The Fourth of July is coming up, how concerned are you about fireworks this year?

Pete: Obviously we don’t need any new starts when we’re as busy as we are. We always mount a small campaign to tell people to be careful about use of fireworks and I’m sure that will be the case again this year, particularly if we’re spread even more thin, we don’t need any new starts.

Lori: We’ve heard that the sockeye fire has been determined to be human caused, but there’s no information yet, about what that may have been. Is there anything new that’s being discovered about pinpointing that?

Pete: There’s investigators working on that and it will probably take a while. I used to be a fire investigator myself and you start with the full array of what it could be and you start eliminating things and what you’re left with would be the cause of the fire. So it’s not always, we think it’s this and here’s some evidence so we’ll call it that. You have to rule out the other things it could have been. So the first thing is, for example, if there’s no lightning in the area, chances are it wasn’t lightning, then when it comes down to human caused, there’s lots of ways that humans cause fires, most inadvertent but if this particular fire is human caused, there’s millions of ways it could have been started. They’re going to winnow through what’s there and discard the things that don’t fit and hopefully come up with a cause.

Lori: It seems like that must be really difficult work. We were hearing reports today from reporters who were in the field, about vehicles being melted by the heat at some places that had burned. How difficult is it, given what’s left, to make after a fire goes through to make that determination?

Pete: Well, interestingly, the origin of a fire is not always burned as completely as downwind from where the fire got bigger and faster and hotter. So you work with burn patterns and work your way back and try and identify where that origin was and then you look for clues and evidence at that origin. But for example, if you were to go out and start a fire with a match or a BIC lighter, that fire is not going to be hundreds and hundreds of degrees at that point. Where it goes and where it is in an hour or so will be much hotter. So very often there is a lot of evidence left at the origin itself.

The bottom line it’s not an unusual year, but it’s not over yet, so we’ll see what happens and we’ll all be able to give a better evaluation at the end of whether it was unusual.

Categories: Alaska News

Groundwater contamination spreads off Eielson Air Force Base

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-17 13:45

Ground water contamination at Eielson Air Force Base has spread off the facility.

A chemical thought to originate from firefighting foam used at the base prior to the year 2000, is being detected in groundwater wells in a nearby subdivision.

Perfluorinated or “P-FOSS” compounds have been detected in private wells in the Moose Creek neighborhood along the Richardson Highway near Eielson. Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Contaminated Sites Program specialist Eric Breitenberger, says the DEC has received test results back on 57 Moose Creek area wells.

“Forty-six out of the 57 wells have tested at or above the public health advisory level for P-FOSS,” he said.

Breietnberger says results from additional wells tested have not come back yet. He estimates there could be as many as 150 drinking water wells in the Moose Creek area. Last month the Air Force announced groundwater testing showed some base wells to be contaminated in excess of the health advisory level, and raised concern about off-site migration. Eielson spokesman Lieutenant Elias Zani says that prompted the Air Force to offer Moose Creek residents well testing.

“And, you know, if they come back above the provisional health advisory level, we are providing bottled drinking water,” Zani said.

Lieutenant Zani says the Air Force is coordinating the response with state and federal agencies. Alaska Department of Health officer Sandrine Deglin says the human health risk is unclear as perfluorinated compounds are an emerging contaminant.

“A few studies have been done and they have been done on fairly large populations. And despite this, there is no convincing evidence that the chemical will cause any particular effect,” Deglin said. “That doesn’t mean that it is safe; it means that further research needs to be done.”

Deglin says the existing studies are not directly comparable to the situation in Moose Creek, as they are based on health effects on large populations with low level exposure to perfluorinated compounds through means other than drinking water.

“P-FOSS is present around us; in furniture, in carpet, all different products that we use pretty much on a daily basis,” she said. “So they exposure doses are very small and that’s why it’s so difficult to conduct the studies.”

Deglin says higher level exposure studies using animals have shown liver and hormonal effects. How broad the P-FOSS exposure is in the Eielson area hinges on ground water spread. The DEC’s Breitenberger says the drainage is generally northwest, away from populated areas.

“We don’t know how exactly far down gradient the contamination could extend, but the good news is that there are very few houses for quite a distance,” he said.

DEC representatives are joining Air Force officials at a public meeting at the Moose Creek Fire Department on Tuesday to talk about the groundwater contamination.

Categories: Alaska News

New Fires Ignite Near Healy Lake

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-17 13:34

Lightning ignited two new wildfires east of Delta Junction Tuesday night.

Smoke columns from Healy Lake wildfires Tuesday night.

Fairbanks-Delta area state fire management officer Ed Sanford says the blazes near the small community of Healy Lake resulted from numerous lightning strikes that hit a swath of Alaska. He says air tankers were deployed on the fires, but they were growing too aggressively to knock down.

“We could not catch it, so we went into what we call point protection, so we have 16 smoke jumpers out there with some boats, setting up sprinkler systems and protecting the cabins out there,” Sanford said.

Sanford says there are about 50 structures, including many recreational cabins, in the fire area. He says an incident management is taking over the fires, which have burned together and are estimated at about 900 acres.

The Alaska wildfire situation is expected to remain extreme. National Weather Service meteorologist Melissa Kreller says hot dry conditions are forecast to continue through the weekend.

”Certainly we’ll be in the 80s across Fairbanks and much of the area, down to the southeast as you’re getting into more Delta Junction and stuff, you might see some isolated thunderstorms,” Kreller said.

Kreller says that mean lighting that could start new fires, adding that minimal moisture is associated with the storms, and certainly no wetting rains.

Categories: Alaska News

Navy Reps Hear Complaints on Northern Edge

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-17 13:32

Four representatives travelled to Homer to explain the purpose of Northern Edge. Captain Raymond Hesser is a naval officer with Alaskan Command.

“We as a team were able to present a lot of information. I’m sure they learned something and the whole point was an information exchange. We gave them some information and then we were able to listen. I think we got a pretty good amount of feedback,” says Hesser.

Hesser and his team explained the history of Northern Edge, the drills involved, and the equipment that would be used. They also said there wouldn’t be any population wide impacts to fish or marine mammals. Homer residents rejected that. Bob Shavelson, Executive Director of Cook Inletkeeper, seemed to surprise the delegation with a question on the Navy’s recent legal trouble regarding exercises planned in waters near Hawaii and Southern California.

Residents wait to hear Northern Edge Presentation at City Hall – Photo by Quinton Chandler/KBBI

“There was a court decision in April that said the analysis, the environmental analysis, that they did in Hawaii and Southern California waters was inadequate. And it was actually illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and other federal laws,” says Shavelson.

Shavelson asked if the Navy violated federal law there, then what are they doing differently here. None of the speakers had an answer. Hesser says he wishes he did.

“Would I have liked to have answers to every single question that was given? Yes. Had I heard that question before? Yes. Have I heard it answered before? Yes. I just would not even dare to try and answer the question when I don’t personally know the answer. We just did the best we could on very short notice to try and be as transparent as possible,” says Hesser.

Hesser says the group was invited on Thursday which gave them a few days to make the trip to Homer. He adds that if the same legal error were made with this study he is sure they would face a similar court ruling.

“That’s not an answer to the question but I just understand that they’re different so I just tried to point that out,” says Hesser.

The audience also chided the representatives for the Navy’s history of pollution, for not knowing about herring data gathered by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, and for claiming sonar impacts on fish and marine mammals would be minimal. Shelley Gill is part of a years’ long humpback whale study with the nonprofit, Eye of the Whale.

“They say sonar doesn’t harm whales. The Navy was kicked out of Hawaii and kicked out of San Diego. He was just talking about how well they did in Puerto Rico and they were kicked out of Puerto Rico too. We know that sonar kills whales,” says Gill.

Gill says the Navy admits in its environmental impact study, or EIS, they don’t know the impact sonar could have on salmon. Dr. Cynthia Ledoux-Bloom is a Fisheries Scientist in California who has worked with the Navy in the Gulf of Alaska. But she says she’s only given the Supplemental EIS for Northern Edge a brief read. Ledoux-Bloom thinks there were good points raised at the meeting, like why the Trustee Council data on herring didn’t make it into the Navy’s impact study.

“I don’t know if the data was available between 2008 and 2011, but if it was it should have been included,” says Ledoux-Bloom.

But she also believes there’s a gap between people’s expectations and what is actually possible. For instance, she doesn’t know how to figure out if there’s a positive relationship between fish mortality and exercises the Navy will be doing in the gulf.

“Were there fish before the training operations? Were there fish after the training operations? Did the training operations themselves remove the fish? If the fish died did they float? Did they sink? Were they dead and just picked up by the shorebirds? So I think trying to figure out mortality and making that relationship…I don’t know how to do it,” says Ledoux-Bloom.

Dr. Ledoux-Bloom says there was a clear divide between the audience’s opinion on the exercises’ impact and the information touted by the Navy’s team. And she says that’s okay.

“When everything goes smooth, I don’t really think you’re getting the full picture or you’re not actually talking to the people you should be talking to. So I though the meeting itself had its moments of discomfort but overall, I really feel super hopeful about it,” says Ledoux-Bloom.

Hesser says he appreciates the community’s concerns and he wishes he could have come to Homer to start a dialogue months before Northern Edge got underway.

Categories: Alaska News

Online cemetery mapping to ensure Juneau always knows where the bodies are buried

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-17 13:28

The Evergreen Cemetery is split up into different groups. This is the Serbian part of the grounds. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

A grease-smudged stack of 25 fading sheets of paper in a storage shed is one of only two copies of who’s buried where in Evergreen Cemetery. All the burials since 1986 are handwritten, but that’s about to change. The City and Borough of Juneau was recently awarded a grant to map its graves digitally.

Ben Patterson has been overseeing the grounds at Evergreen Cemetery for about 12 years. During that time, he’s been able to reflect on where he’d like to spend his final days.

“I definitely don’t want to be put into the ground, I know that,” he says. “I don’t know if that’s because I’ve spent so much time in the cemetery, but I think I’d rather be spread around a little bit.”

Inside the cemetery storage shed, along with gardening tools and a lawnmower, is an invaluable stack papers.

“Basically 25 pages of maps that show all the plots,” Patterson says.

The other known copy is kept in a separate location to avoid both being destroyed in a fire. More than 8,000 people are buried at Evergreen. The cemetery dates back to the 1880s when it was moved from its original spot on Chicken Hill.

“It was staked as a mining claim for gold. So they had to move everyone that was there,” Patterson says.

One of only two known paper records of Evergreen Cemetery. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Some of the rectangular plots look like they were thrown out like dice, some are orderly. Names collected from a 1986 survey are printed inside some of those rectangles.

“All the handwritten notes are just all the burials that happened since then or were discovered since then,” he says. “And that’s basically the only record of the these locations since the 80s.”

It’s not a great system, though Patterson has almost all the grave sites memorized. He can flip through the 25 pages and find people by name, and he can find them on the ground.

“I was just mowing the other day and someone walked up and asked me where a certain person was and I just happened to have just weed whipped around his headstone and they were joking with me that I had all 8,000 graves memorized,” he says.

With the rise in genealogical databases, like, Patterson says he’s noticed an increase in these requests. Last week alone, he’s located the graves of five different people. A new system will be a big help.

“It is huge. It’s going to mean that’s it’s going to be way easier for people to find everyone in Evergreen,” he says.

The City and Borough of Juneau was awarded a $17,000 grant in federal funds to put a cemetery map online.

Outside, city cartographer Quinn Tracy holds a GPS device above the headstone of Joe Juneau to pinpoint the exact geographic location. The device beeps as the site is mapped.

“So when I bring these points into the information geographic names system, I’ll have a point and then name associated with that point,” he says.

Quinn Tracy is the lead cartographer on the project. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Buried at Evergreen are several notable people in Alaska’s history: city co-founders Joe Juneau and Richard Harris, victims of the sinking of the Princess Sophia and civil rights activist Elizabeth Peratrovich.

Tracy only needs two coordinates per grid section to map the entire cemetery–the rest will be overlaid using a digital scan of the 1986 survey. He peels back the moss from a crumbling headstone to uncover a name.

“I don’t know, it’s just kind of sad that some of these you can’t really read,” Tracy says.

Soon family and friends will be able to search for grave sites on the city’s website with the click of a mouse.

“It’ll be similar in concept to Google Maps where you enter an address and it takes you to that location,” he says. “In that case, you’ll enter someone’s name and will take you to their location in Evergreen Cemetery.”

Most of the remaining plots were sold in the 1950s and the site is almost full. Before long, there will be no new burials. Children nearby take turns tumbling down the hill.

Groundskeeper Ben Patterson says he doesn’t mind the historic resting place being treated like a park.

“I don’t find that disrespectful. I think it’s one of the neatest things about our cemetery is that it’s just so peaceful and people like it so much,” Patterson says.

The Evergreen Cemetery map goes online in October.

Categories: Alaska News

Fire totals, acreage burned lower than predicted, so far

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-17 13:04

The Sockeye Fire near Willow, at the latest report, is holding steady at just over 7,500 acres.

So far this year, about 78,000 acres have burned in 280 fires in Alaska. Pete Buist, a public information officer for the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, says that’s lower than normal.

“Early in the season, we have a lot of fires that are human caused, and then as the season progresses, we get into the time of year when lightning is common,” Buist said. “And that happens, frankly, about now; it’s actually a little late this year.”

“So, we’re on the low side in terms of numbers starts and numbers of acres.”

Though fire activity is down, overall, Buist says what is a little different this year is where the fires are located.

“Normally, places like the Kenai and the Mat-Su, the fire danger is the greatest between break-up and green-up and when we’ve got wind in the spring and that sort of thing, it’s very busy down there,” he said. “This year, that seems to have extended a bit further into the season.”

Predictions coming into this year’s fire season tended toward the high end. That hasn’t transpired, so far.

Buist says this season is similar to 2004 – which was a record-high fire season, where about 7 million acres burned – but he doesn’t anticipate a repeat of that season.

“Despite the dire predictions, there’s really no way to accurately come up with what’s gonna happen next week, much less what’s gonna happen next month,” he said.

Buist says it will likely be a busy few weeks for fire crews, but after that, the fire danger should gradually lessen.

“By a month from now, normally we’re into more precipitation, and lightning becomes less and less of a problem,” Buist said.

And he says he has no reason to think that won’t happen again this year.

Until then, there’s plenty of hot, dry weather in the forecast and the Fourth of July is approaching. Buist says Alaskans are typically more fire safe than most.

“We all do lots of camping, lots of fishing, and we have those campfires and know how to take care of them, but in any subset of the population, there is that few percentage points of folks who are not that careful and they’re the ones that cause the problems,” Buist said.

In times of high fire danger, Buist cautions people against using fireworks.

Burn bans are in effect throughout much of the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Sockeye Fire holds steady at about 7,500 acres

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-17 10:56

Sockeye perimeter as of Tuesday, in red.

Update: 6:30am, June 17.

About 300 firefighters are on the ground trying to stop the Sockeye Fire, north of Willow, and they have air resources. The fire acreage did not increase Tuesday.

Fire managers are reporting good progress on containing the northern portion.

Tuesday’s storms brought little rain, but did produce lightening strikes to the north, which firefighters attacked aggressively to prevent their growth.

The region is unlikely get much of a break from the weather Wednesday. Scattered dry thunderstorms, low humidity and gusty winds are in the forecast for this afternoon and evening in the Susitna Valley, from Willow to Talkeetna.

Traffic has been moving through the Parks Highway, led by a pilot car.

Firefighters hope to have containment within a day or so. The Sockeye fire is currently zero percent contained.

Categories: Alaska News