Fire Officials Discuss Record Season In Two Rivers, Alaska

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Fire officials acknowledged that information flow, agency coordination and public involvement in planning may have come up short in this year's extraordinary fire season.

State and federal fire officials in Two Rivers Thursday held the first in a series of public meetings assessing the season that burned a record 6.5 million acres and estimated to cost $100 million or more.

About 40 people turned out for the meeting in the community where homes were threatened by the Wolf Creek Fire, which reached the outskirts of the Chena Hot Springs Resort. Nearby residents along the Steese Highway and in subdivisions north of Fox had to evacuate ahead of the approaching Boundary Fire.

But few people had questions for the fire officers during the 2 1/2-hour meeting, save one man who did not identify himself and left after criticizing the fire suppression efforts.

``If we followed the fire suppression plan of the pre-80s, would we be here now?'' the man asked.

``You're in charge in here and you failed miserably. ... You got paid to sit there and watch the fire burn,'' he said before suggesting the black spruce, the bane of fire suppression efforts, should be logged.

Fire officials acknowledged the flow of information could have been better.

Other areas identified for improvement included getting more public involvement and participation in the planning end of fire management and coordination with non-fire agencies such as Alaska State Troopers, the state Department of Transportation and the Fairbanks North Star Borough Animal Control.

Joyce Kelso, who packed up her 20 dogs and 11 parrots when the Boundary Fire neared her subdivision, said her main concern was that accurate information did not get out to residents quickly enough.

She said she had to force her way into the Incident Command Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration facility on Steese Highway. She said she talked to fire managers who didn't know her subdivision existed.

Kelso said fire managers should have placed evacuation notices sooner or simply told one resident who would get the word out to neighbors.

Officials predicted a normal fire season in May, which was one of the wettest Mays on record.

Tom Kurth, the Northern Regions Fire Management Officer for the state Division of Forestry, said he thought the summer would be slower than usual judging by the rains the Interior was getting.