SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Governor Issues State Disaster Declaration for Areas Affected by Sockeye Fire

FEMA provides federal funds to help fight the Sockeye Fire


June 16, 2015
Tuesday PM

(SitNews) - Governor Bill Walker declared a state disaster Monday in response to widespread damages caused by the Sockeye Fire in Willow and the surrounding region. This action was announced at the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly Chambers after the Governor received a full briefing by Alaska Division of Forestry personnel, and flew over the affected area on Monday afternoon to observe the firefighting efforts underway. As of Monday, the fire has burned more than 6,500 acres.

The Alaska Army National Guard supported fire suppression efforts in June 2015 in and near Willow, Alaska. UH-60 Black Hawks from the 1-207th Aviation Regiment flew multiple missions, dipping their orange water buckets into waters east of Willow Lake and dropping thousands of gallons of water over the east side of the fire, about five miles north of Willow Airport. Sergeant Sonny Cooper, a crew chief for the 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, flew on a crew during firefighting efforts, and operated the water bucket during missions.
Photo courtesy of Sergeant Kevan Katkus.

The Alaska Division of Forestry (DOF), the Alaska National Guard, the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and the Mat-Su Borough have all deployed resources to aid the effort.

Two Alaska Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and aircrews from the 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment have helped fight the Sockeye Fire since Sunday, performing water bucket operations near Willow.

1-207th AVN accepted their first mission to support the firefight on June 14 around 5 p.m., and they were in the air within two hours.

Alaska Army National Guard crews flew one mission Sunday and two Monday, dropping a total of 66,000 gallons of water so far. They are standing by for orders from incident command and are expected to tackle the fire again Tuesday evening.

Aircrews for water bucket drops typically include two pilots and one or sometimes two crew chiefs in each helicopter. The 1-207th currently has 11 qualified crews who must be swapped out every three to four days.

“I am proud of all the agencies, emergency personnel, and volunteers who have been working together and have done a great job in their initial response to the fire,” Governor Walker said. “The fire itself has been powerful, but the human response has been equally as powerful. There has been tremendous support from around the state. The disaster declaration will put the borough in a position to have access to necessary resources from around the state.”

Governor Walker verbally issued the state disaster declaration Modnay, shortly after the Mat-Su Borough’s request. In issuing the declaration, the state’s Public and Individual Assistance programs have been activated.

The state’s Public Assistance Program is designed to help state, local and tribal governmental entities, as well as certain private non-profit organizations restore damaged infrastructure to pre-disaster conditions. Funding will be available for emergency protective measures, temporary and permanent repairs to infrastructure, and technical and funding assistance needed to repair or replace damaged facilities.

The state’s Individual Assistance is designed to provide financial assistance to individuals or families for damages to primary residence, primary mode of transportation, essential personal property and medical needs created as a direct result of a declared disaster and for which other assistance is either unavailable or inadequate. Homeowners and renters with homes that are damaged and unlivable may be eligible for state Individual Assistance Temporary Housing.

Tuesday morning the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) authorized the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs for the Sockeye Fire, burning in Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska.

FEMA Region X Regional Administrator, Kenneth D. Murphy determined that the Sockeye Fire threatened such destruction as would constitute a major disaster. Murphy approved the state’s request for federal Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) on June 15, 2015 at 6:37 p.m. AKDT.

The fire started on June 14, 2015, and has burned approximately 6,500 acres of private and state land. At the time of the request, the fire had burned 25 homes and was threatening 893 primary homes in and around the town of Willow. Approximately 1700 people had evacuated the area. Sheltering operations have been ongoing and have had to relocate 3 times because of the dynamics of this fire. The Park Highway, local roads and bridges were closed and threatened.

Firefighting resources include a Type 1 Incident Management Team, 5 Hot Spot Crews, 10 Helicopters, 1 Air Tanker, 2 Engine Task Forces to support fire suppression activities. The Federal Principal Advisor confirmed the threat to homes. The fire is currently 0 percent contained. There are 24 other fires burning uncontrolled within the state.

The authorization makes FEMA funding available to pay 75 percent of the State of Alaska’s eligible firefighting costs under an approved grant for managing, mitigating and controlling designated fires. These grants provide reimbursement for firefighting and life-saving efforts. They do not provide assistance to individuals, homeowners or business owners and do not cover other infrastructure damage caused by the fire.

Fire Management Assistance Grants are provided through the President's Disaster Relief Fund and made available by FEMA to assist in fighting fires that threaten to cause a major disaster. Eligible items can include expenses for field camps; equipment use, repair and replacement; mobilization and demobilization activities; and tools, materials and supplies.



Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


Source of News:

Office of the Governor

Federal Emergency Management Agency

State of Alaska Department of Military & Veterans Affairs


Publish A Letter in SitNews

Contact the Editor

SitNews ©2015
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

 Articles & photographs that appear in SitNews may be protected by copyright and may not be reprinted without written permission from and payment of any required fees to the proper sources.

E-mail your news & photos to

Photographers choosing to submit photographs for publication to SitNews are in doing so granting their permission for publication and for archiving. SitNews does not sell photographs. All requests for purchasing a photograph will be emailed to the photographer.