As smoke from the Swan Lake Fire near Sterling fills the air on the southern Kenai Peninsula, many homeowners and residents are thinking about fire danger and how to protect their homes and property from wildfire.
Robert Purcell, interim fire chief of the Homer Volunteer Fire Department said the fire danger in the area is high and climbing. As well, Purcell said, firefighting resources from the state Division of Forestry are heavily tapped right now, so another significant fire would be a real challenge to respond to.
All open burning permits are suspended at this time, so there is no permitted burning of slash or other burn operations. What is still permitted are emergency signal fires and small campfires, however, even those are not advisable in most circumstances, he said, save a formal camp-ground setting.
“We really don’t recommend people have any open fires at this time, except maybe a barbecue,” he said.
In addition, people should be aware of other sources of fire, like sparks from sharpening tools or the heat from the exhaust system of a four-wheeler or car driving through grasses. Both have caused significant fires on the Kenai Peninsula in recent history.
While the easiest way to prevent fires is to not start them in the first place, there is also a lot you can do to protect your home from fire danger.
Purcell said even if you live in the city of Homer and not in a forested area far from town, the fire danger is still there.
“The entire city of Homer is a wildland-urban interface,” he said. “We are all surrounded by wildland fuels. It doesn’t have to be the tree next to your house – it could be a tree a few hundred yards over that sends sparks down on your house. The only people who live in Homer who don’t have a wildland fire danger are at the end of the Homer Spit.”
Purcell said it is always a good time to think about what would happen if a fire broke out in your neighborhood. Residents should think about everything that is in a 10-20-foot ring around your home that might increase your fire risk. If there is lumber piled under your house or under a deck, or a pile of firewood next to your house, those should be moved away from your home. Even debris like spruce needles on your deck can provide a place for a flying spark to catch fire.
Larger items such as semi-dead trees right next to your home increase your fire risk, as do parking vehicles close to the home. Conversely, a well-maintained lawn running up to your home will help significantly reduce your fire risk.
Homeowners can learn more about things they can do to protect their home through the national FireWise site or by downloading Alaska-specific FireWise information at http://forestry.alaska.gov/Assets/pdfs/home/firewise09.pdf.
Purcell said while the fire danger is high now, fire season is an annual event.
“If people take steps every year, they can increase their fire safety dramatically,” he said.