Governor Issues Disaster Declaration for McKinley, Deshka Landing, and Kenai Peninsula Wildfires
Releases individual and public assistance for lost homes, personal belongings and public infrastructure
August 26, 2019
The wildfires have damaged or destroyed an estimated 83 structures, resulted in mandatory evacuation of approximately 400 residents, and caused intermittent travel delays along the Sterling and Parks Highways and for rail traffic along the Alaska Railroad. The scope of the damage is not yet fully realized due to active fire suppression efforts. However, substantial damage to private homes, public facilities, and communications and utility lines are anticipated.
The response to the wildfires has been hampered by conditions affecting the entire southcentral portion of the state, such as drought and record dry fuels, strong winds, and low humidity.
“In a short amount of time, these wildfires have already cost dozens of Alaskan families everything they own. Many homes, personal belongings, and businesses are completely gone, and the disruption brought to their lives is unimaginable,” said Governor Michael Dunleavy. “This declaration frees up financial assistance to help the victims of these devastating fires begin to rebuild their lives as quickly as possible.”
“The Governor’s declaration activates Alaska’s Public Assistance, Individual Assistance and Temporary Housing programs,” said Brig. Gen. Torrence Saxe, Commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “Additionally, the National Guard, and all of DMVA, will continue to support the well-executed fire response.”
“The Division of Forestry, and our non-government partners, have been doing an excellent job supporting the extended efforts of our local jurisdictions,” said Director Michael Sutton, Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “The disaster declaration will provide relief for the survivors with fire related damages, and reimbursement for eligible emergency response costs that our partners have incurred.”
The State of Alaska Public Assistance program is designed to help communities, government organizations, and certain non-profits make repairs to utilities, public buildings, roads, bridges, and other critical infrastructure damaged by the declared event.
The State of Alaska Individual Assistance program is designed to provide grant funding to individuals and families for damages to their real property and personal property, as well as medical expenses that are a direct result of the disaster event. In addition, the Individual Assistance program can provide temporary housing to individuals and families that cannot return to their homes.
Residents and affected business owners will be notified of how and where they can apply for assistance in the upcoming days.
Extreme conditions extend Alaska wildfire season to Sept. 30
And today, with several wildfires burning in Southcentral Alaska and high fire danger persisting due to continued warm, dry conditions, Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige announced today that Alaska’s statutory wildfire season will be extended from August 31 to September 30.
“Unprecedented fire risk conditions for the Southcentral and Kenai Peninsula regions and the ongoing large project fires in these areas have created statewide challenges for wildland fire response agencies,” Feige wrote in her order extending the fire season (attached). “Any new fires will further stress the overall statewide response capabilities.”
Alaska’s statutory wildfire season normally begins on April 1 and ends on August 31. Extension of the fire season under state law means that small- and large-scale burn permits will be required for open debris burning or the use of burn barrels through September 30.
This is the first time the fire season has been extended since 2006 legislation shifted the five-month season to start and finish one month earlier. Feige determined the one-month extension was necessary to ensure public safety.
An emergency burn closure remains in effect for the Kenai Peninsula and Matanuska-Susitna boroughs, prohibiting any open burning due to the extremely dry conditions. The closure took effect on August 21 and applies to all types of burning, including campfires and the use of charcoal grills, on state, private, municipal and borough lands in the closure areas. The closure includes campfires in established fire pits or fire rings in designated campgrounds.
Devices that can be turned on and off — such as gas and pellet grills and backpacking or camp stoves that use fuel or compressed fuel canisters — are still allowed, though users are urged to be cautious with them as well. The emergency burn closure will remain in effect until conditions moderate.
The long-range weather outlook includes no forecast for significant rain in Southcentral Alaska for the next week. Fire indices are at record-high levels on the Kenai Peninsula and in the Mat-Su valley. Given the current wildfire activity and the extremely dry conditions, the Division of Forestry asks the public to be very careful with any activity that could spark a wildfire.
While acreage burned this fire season falls well below the record season of 2004, when approximately 6.6 million acres burned, it marks the fifteenth time in 80 years of records that Alaska has seen more than 2 million acres burn in a single season. As of Monday, 682 fires have burned more than 2.5 million acres this season.
Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews
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