The Fairbanks North Star Borough has found clear direction for the future out of the ashes of last summer’s wildfires, said a top borough official.
The borough will help identify stands of black spruce in order to have them destroyed and it will take a seat in fire-monitoring and decision-making meetings.
“Our focus is protection of the borough,” said Dave Tyler, the director of the borough’s emergency services, during an assembly work session last week.
The borough’s plans stem from the recommendations made by the Wildland Fire Commission, formed by the Borough Assembly under borough Mayor Jim Whitaker. The commission met for 60 days and issued a report that called for increased air support in fire fighting, better communication and fuel management.
The most controversial action likely will be the cutting down of black spruce, said Whitaker, and that people are likely not going to want to see forests cleared.
“I can assure you that when we start cutting down trees, this place will fill up,” Whitaker told the assembly.
But those forests have to be dealt with because of the potential danger they pose to neighborhoods, Tyler said.
Black spruce quickly move a wild fire. Fire management has two ways to deal with black spruce stands.
One is to have prescribed burns, where fires are intentionally set. The downside is that they can sometimes burn out of control.
The second way is to cut them down. There are several ways to do this, but Division of Forestry prefers a method called sheerblading: A bulldozer outfitted with a blade cuts down the trees, which are then pushed into windrows and burned.
The borough wants to map the black spruce stands and identify those posing a threat to the borough, Tyler said. He expects that by the fall of 2005, the mapping will be complete enough to identify the biggest threats.
“It is likely that an appropriation will be brought before the assembly for fuels reduction in the early winter of 2005-06,” he said.
The ideal time to cut the trees will be when the ground is frozen, he said.
It is also possible that the borough can piggyback this program with a $2 million University of Alaska Fairbanks hydrogen cell technology study using biomass from forests, said Bob Shefchik, the borough’s chief of staff.
The borough also wants to create safe zones by cutting trees and brushing around borough transfer stations, using money from a federal grant, Tyler said.
The borough wildfire plan includes taking over the position of Homeland Security Manager, currently funded by the borough through a federal grant but implemented by the city of Fairbanks.
Also, the borough will know if it is the recipient of a federal grant installing Reverse 911 by May, Tyler said.
Reverse 911 is a system calling residents to warn them of impending danger. With the grant, the system could be operational by the fall, he said.
Tyler is also working on better public communication, a problem last year because information appeared scattered and in some cases untrue, he said.
“(The public is) used to seeing live footage from Baghdad and yet they can’t find out what’s happening in their own back yard,” he said.
The cost to implement all the borough’s wildfire plans from now into 2006 will be about $1.4 million, Tyler said. The money will come from a $986,000 federal grant and a $376,000 state matching grant, he said.