Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Thinned forest helped contain school fire

Mat-Su | Patty Sullivan | Thursday, June 28, 2007

SUSITNA VALLEY HIGH—Good firefighting wasn't the only effort that prevented the Su Valley High fire from igniting nearby neighborhoods. The surrounding hazardous fuels were strategically thinned out last summer in anticipation of just such a fire.

That advanced planning is called the Wildfire Fuel Reduction program. It's federally funded and a tool the Borough has been using for 3 years.

"We did this so the school wouldn't catch on fire, but it works in reverse too," said Debby Broneske, resource management specialist, in charge of the Borough program.

The projects are designed to provide fuel breaks to lower fire intensity, enhance control efforts and reduce the wildfire threat to property. And it worked.

Tuesday night the driving wind blew burning embers from the school into the forest, 50 to 250 yards away, creating several spot fires. Those fires were promptly put out. State fire officials are impressed with the fire defensible space.

"The burning debris was easy to locate and easy to get to for firefighters," said Norm McDonald with the Division of Forestry. "The treated areas helped contain the fire and prevent it from becoming a catastrophic fire for the neighborhood."

Last summer spruce trees and tangled underbrush were cleared by hand from the dense conifer forest across 9.4 acres around Su Valley High. A couple weeks ago, the fuels were reduced on University of Alaska land south and east of the school on six acres.

There are 15 similar projects going on across the Borough now on both private and public property including Pioneer Peak Elementary, Larson Elementary, and Tanaina Elementary. Some 23 projects have been completed to date totaling hundreds of acres of protection.

"Fuel reduction works," Broneske said. "It does provide protection from wildfires; the more interest from the public in it, the better."

For information, call Debby Broneske at (907) 745-9863.

The same strategy can be used to protect your home from fire through our Firewise program. Call Michieal Abé (907) 373-8823 to schedule your free appointment and learn what you can do to make your home safe.