July 2016 – Summer Means Fire Season.

Posted: August 24, 2016

It is summer in Alaska! That also means it is fire season. Last winter was a mild one with less snowfall than normal. Spring came earlier than usual as well, with the accompanying good news that break-up was largely uneventful, with no significant flooding. A mild spring with less than normal rainfall has brought many sunny days and mild temperatures, but the unpleasant consequence is a much higher fire danger than normal.

Through the middle of June, we already have seen more than 250 fires in the state, with most of them caused by human activities. Many of these fires have been in or near our AVEC communities, including Nulato, Gambell, Savoonga, Andreafsky, Pilot Station, Mountain Village, Shungnak and Kobuk.

Recently, the Warren Creek Fire near Shungnak and Kobuk came perilously close to the transmission line providing electricity to Kobuk, and evacuation plans were made for that community. We had every expectation that the power line would be heavily damaged by the fire, but more than 200 personnel and a significant airborne response prevented the worst of the damage and the community was spared.

Most of these fires are human caused: sparks from ATVs or snowmachines, a discarded cigarette butt, abandoned campfires. It takes only a spark to ignite dry grass or brush. Before you know it, lives and property are at risk.

I am sure you all are aware of the wildfire that struck Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada, this year. This highly destructive fire destroyed more than 2,000 structures and forced the evacuation of more than 90,000 people. That fire was likely human caused. It cost more than $600 million to fight it and caused billions of dollars in property damage.

Please be extra vigilant this year about the enormous risk of wildfires. Teach your children to be aware of the danger to themselves and their surroundings. Matches, lighters, candles, fireworks, campfires—these are all things children love to play with. But the consequences can be life changing.

Each one of us can make a difference. Be safe as you enjoy our beautiful Alaskan summer. We wish you bountiful subsistence harvests and many wonderful memories with your loved ones.