WASILLA — Firefighters fighting blazes in what has become a second Valley fire season were out again Monday morning off of Trunk Road.
“It was called in as an approximate one acre fast moving grass fire it was caused by a downed power line,” said the Mat-Su Borough’s Emergency Services Director Dennis Brodigan. “Indeed it was moving fast but it ended up being right at about an acre.”
The blaze was called in at 8:12 a.m., Dec. 3 off of Trunk Road on Cottrell Campus Drive.
“We threw everything we had at it because it was moving towards some houses,” he said.
The departments got it knocked down quickly and by early afternoon it was more or less out.
A relatively quick green-up this year and no major fires actually made for a relatively quiet summer fire season. But a strange mixture of no snow, dead grass and high winds has combined to create an unprecedented wintertime fire season that has had state and local fire crews hopping. They’re busier than they were during the actual fire season. And now they’re fighting fires in intense winds and intense cold.
“(Alaska Division of) Forestry has apparently brought 10 hot shots down from Fairbanks to help them through this red flag warning period,” Brodigan said, referring to the burn ban now in place.
Forestry fire management officer Norm McDonald said Saturday that forestry has had to staff back up after its summer staff down for the first time anybody can really remember.
Forestry wildfire engines don’t work in the cold. They’ve had to rely on borough equipment to supply water. Even getting the right personal protective gear has been a challenge. Forestry firefighters usually wear just long-sleeved shirts and pants — gear that is by no means effective in winter weather.
At least 20 fires flared between Palmer and Meadow Lakes since the winds picked up last week. None has topped the more-than-100-acre blaze that tore through a golf course north of Palmer, which threatened many homes and forced the evacuation of a subdivision Nov. 29.
The flames burned all the way up to the backyards of homes in the Cedar Hills subdivision, prompting the evacuation of the area.
Multiple departments battled throughout the evening and into the night before families were allowed to return home late Thursday evening. Not a single home was lost, though multiple vehicles and outbuildings were destroyed.
“It’s an absolutely herculean effort to put the fires out,” Brodigan said. “Our fire responders have just been absolutely marvelous in responding to this.”
Although few of the fires came from reckless burning — most were accidental, escaping from house or vehicle fires — everyone from the state and borough urged caution as the winds continued to lash the Valley Monday afternoon. As of Monday afternoon a burn ban was still in effect.
Forestry urged anyone who’d been burning earlier in the year to also check their piles to make sure they weren’t hiding any smoldering embers. Winds like these can fan them back to life. And once a fire is going the wind won’t let it stop.
“This fire, once it gets going it moves incredibly fast. Beyond imagination really,” Brodigan said.
Contact reporter Andrew Wellner at email@example.com or 352-2270.