Fire officials predict changes in policies are in store following a series of public meetings in the aftermath of Alaska’s history-making fire season.
“I would suspect there will be some changes in the protection areas,” said Joe Stam, chief of fire and aviation for the state Division of Forestry. “One of the areas that we’re looking at is the north of Fairbanks.”
Stam said there have been yearly minor adjustments in protection areas, which are used to dictate wildland firefighting efforts, but there haven’t been substantial changes in the Fairbanks area since the mid- to late-1990s.
That may happen after the Boundary Fire, which burned over 555,000 acres and caused numerous evacuations as it made a march toward Fairbanks. Many affected by the fire and smoke began to question policies used to gauge response to wildland fires in Alaska.
“I can’t say for sure until we get through the process,” Stam said.
Another area subject to change is the way information reaches the public, something both fire officials and many in the public agreed was severely lacking when flames flared up on June 29 and as evacuations were ordered along the Steese and Elliott highways in the days following. But it wasn’t just the flames that Alaska suffered through, but many days of smoke that kept tourists at bay. Fairbanks had 42 smoke-filled days, according to fire officials.
A report outlining how officials plan to address some of the concerns voiced both by the public and fire officials will be available on Web sites of both the Department of Natural Resources, http://www.dnr.state.ak.us, and the Alaska Fire Service, http://fire.ak.blm.gov, by March 2005.
This report will be sent to land managers who have the last say in determining fire protection boundaries. These include state, federal and Native land managers, who annually review the Alaska Interagency Wildland Fire Management Plan that dictates fire suppression efforts. Private land owners channel change requests through the state Department of Natural Resources office in Anchorage, Stam said.
Hard copies of the report will also be available to the public and will include public comment garnered through a series of meetings in the many communities that were affected by the fire season that saw a record-breaking $6.7 million acres burned.
“We’re going to compile all the comments, put together the common elements, the things that we heard over and over,” Stam said.