We no longer can ask if a fire will burn, rather we must ask, "When?"
At 12:26 pm on June 17, 2005, the Roosevelt Cabin in Denali National Park and Preserve was smack on the path of the McKinley Fire, a mere eight miles away. Under the right fuel and wind conditions, such a distance is an easy afternoon's run for a fire. The job for the small crew who landed by helicopter was clear, remove, or reduce flammable materials from the area surrounding the cabin to prevent any approaching flames from jumping to the structure. Some trees would be cut, brush and grasses trimmed, a sprinkler system put in place with portable pumps, and the crew would leave safely.
The fire veered in a different direction and got no closer. But wildland fire does happen in Alaska. It is a natural and significant force that shapes the boreal forest and tundra ecosystems. Rather than risk placing fire crews near an oncoming fire to make these last minute preparations, fire staff proactively plan and prepare infrastructures throughout the parks in advance of the eventual fire. Firewise is the process of creating defensible space around structures to provide a safer environment for subsistence cabin users, visitors, park staff, and firefighters in the case of wildland fire. Use of Firewise techniques lessens wildland fire risk to structures or communities. Anyone, not just fire professionals, can apply Firewise techniques around any valued structures.
The number of acres burned per year in Alaska are variable. Burned acreage can range from a few thousand to several million acres. Fire management in NPS, Alaska is finely tuned to balance the risk and benefits of fire while keeping firefighter and the public’s safety as our core value.