Ensure wildland fire suppression resources are in a state of readiness to safely manage wildland fires that pose a threat to life, property, and resources on State, private, municipal, and other lands negotiated through agreement commensurate with the values at risk.
- Provide for the safety of the public and employees.
- Protect identified values at risk from wildland fire.
- Minimize the impact of fire on the public by reducing human-caused fire starts through education and enforcement, and hazard fuel mitigation.
- Ensure cost effectiveness through appropriate fire management.
- Provide a qualified firefighting workforce with the resources to respond to wildland fires.
|A: Result - Provide wildland fire management on state, private, municipal lands and lands negotiated through agreements.|
Target #1: Provide safe, cost effective wildland fire protection services to the State of Alaska.
Fire Starts and Acres Burned (thousands) - Statewide
Analysis of results and challenges: The mean temperature in Alaska has increased by 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over the last 60 years. The frost-free season has increased by 30 days over the last 40 years.The population of Alaska has increased by nearly 200,000 people in the last 20 years. The largest growth was observed in the Matanuska Susitna Valley at 12.63% growth between 2010 and 2015. The result is a longer fire season, larger, more intense fires, more potential sources of ignition and more people at risk from wildland fire. The division continues to strive to achieve more than 90% success in suppressing fires in or near communities to smaller than 10 acres. In remote areas, the division allowed fire to follow a natural role in the ecosystem therefore reducing hazardous fuel buildup and strategically managing fire at a lesser cost per acre while protecting the designated values at risk.
The climatic changes in Alaska and increasing population have challenged the division in a number of fire responses during the fire season. The fire season now stretches from early April through September. Earlier and later occurring fires, intense fire behavior, and fires resistant to control have created challenges for the division to manage both the fire suppression and the budget. In addition, supplementing the wildland fire effort in the Lower 48 is becoming more frequent and of longer duration.
|A1: Core Service - Provide for the safety of the public and employees.|
Target #1: Reduce the impact of wildfire smoke on the public by working to mitigate smoke concerns from fires near communities.
Air Quality Advisories Issued Due to Wildland Fire Smoke
Analysis of results and challenges: Wildland fire in the boreal forest of Alaska is inevitable. If fires burn near communities, the smoke from these fires may become a health issue for those community residents. The Division of Forestry has two potential opportunities to reduce the health impacts to those residents. The first is notification and education. In concert with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Alaskans are provided education of potential health impacts from wildland smoke. In addition, DEC issues Air Quality Advisories when wildfire smoke may impact a community. Residents armed with this information can make decisions for themselves on whether they should leave the area, take precautions in place, or not be concerned.
The second potential opportunity to reduce health impacts from wildland smoke is to make fire management decisions on fires that can impact the amount of smoke produced. Examples of the range of actions that could be implemented include early season suppression on an ongoing fire to inhibit fire growth to the suppression of new starts within a defined geographic area in proximity to a community.
During the 2018 fire season, five air quality advisories were issued by the Alaska DEC, Division of Air Quality, in response to fire activity. The first and second were issued on June 14th and June 16th in Central and Eastern Interior related to fires burning to the east of Fairbanks. On July 24th, an air quality advisory was issued for the Western Interior and then expanded for Central and Eastern Interior. The last was issued on July 26th for Central and Eastern Interior due to continuing smoke concerns.
Target #2: Minimize lost work days for firefighters.
Firefighter Safety: Total Days Lost
Analysis of results and challenges: Firefighting is an inherently dangerous profession. Mitigation measures include requirements and adherence to the National Incident Management System’s (NIMS) physical fitness standards to ensure employees are capable of performing activities at differing levels from firefighter to support positions; the proper use of safety equipment during high risk activities such as use of chainsaws in fireline construction; training in the use of large firefighting equipment including engines, forklifts, and dozers, and safety analysis of firefighting facilities to mitigate hazards. The division has been extremely proactive in the implementation of these mitigation measures but continued work is necessary. Eliminating all on the job injuries is not reasonable in this hazardous environment but the division will continue to analyze past injuries to implement preventative measures. Nationally, for 2016, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported that the leading cause of fire ground injuries continue to be overexertion or strain. Out of all injuries, 13.7% occurred during training activities. .
Annually, a review of injury causes is evaluated by the division to provide information into the existing safety program. Trends are analyzed to identify areas where the division can implement change in the fire program. There continues to be an increase in injuries due to early season exercise programs designed to keep firefighters in good physical condition. Since the training injury rate is also related to the spring icy roads, areas have developed indoor exercise areas containing stationary bikes, weights, etc. Inhalation hazards from wildfires is exposures to airborne particulates and toxic chemicals. Firefighters are taught to consider the level of smoke exposure before committing personnel to action. Mitigation efforts include short work periods, working upwind from the fire.
|A2: Core Service - Protect identified values at risk from wildland fire.|
Target #1: Contain more than 90% of wildland fires at less than 10 acres within Alaska's heavily populated areas (Critical and Full Management Options) in accordance with the Alaska Interagency Wildland Fire Management Plan.
Percentage of Fires Successfully Contained at Less Than 10 Acres
Analysis of results and challenges: Critical Management Option encompasses communities while the Full Management Option encompasses wildlands near communities. Critical areas are designated as the highest priority areas/sites for suppression action and assignment of available firefighting resources due to the immediate threat to human life and primary residences. The Division successfully suppressed all but two fires in Critical at less than 10 acres (98% success rate). The Division was successful with 83% of the suppression of fires in Full with 8 fires exceeding 10 acres. In 2018 there were two fires within Unplanned Fire Management. These early season grass fires occurred in the Aleutian Islands, an area not normally known for wildland fires.
The percentage of fires kept at 10 acres or less in these populated areas reflects the success of initial attack efforts. Factors impacting this success include early detection, short response time, weather and fuels conditions, and the availability of firefighting resources including the local fire departments.
In 2018,198 fires started within the area of state protection for 46,026.8 acres. Rural and remote fires occurring in Full and Critical Fire Management protection are harder to support due to the limit of early detection and the difficulty in accessing the fire. In many cases these remote fires are only accessible by aerial suppression forces. Firefighting resources are also limited during peak fire danger and each new fire start must be evaluated as to the immediacy of the threat to values in the area. In certain cases, the decision is made not to immediately suppress the fire due to higher priorities within the state or limited values at risk.
Target #2: Prevent the loss of identified structures to wildland fire, consistent with the Alaska Interagency Fire Management Plan protection level.
Analysis of results and challenges: The protection of human life and property remains the division’s highest priority for firefighting resources. In 2018, 11 structures were lost due to wildland fire. Of these eleven structures only one of the structures was a residence. The other structures were classified as outbuildings which include green houses, sheds etc. Two of the fires burned more than one structure. This does not include fires that burn vehicles including motor homes. It also does not include those structure fires which spread into the wild lands. Firefighting resources respond first to fires with structures immediately threatened, however, occasionally the structure has already burned prior to the firefighters’ arrival, the fire is too dangerous to insert firefighters, or the structure is not protectable due to a minimal amount of defensible space around the home.
Firefighters frequently discover cabins and homes that are threatened while enroute to a fire and this necessitates a change in response. The sooner fire managers are aware of structures, the more immediate effective planning, strategies, and tactics can take place. Fire managers determine the potential success of protecting these structures based on the location of fire start, weather, fuel characteristics, and work done in advance by homeowners to protect their own property. All of these factors play into the number of structures lost in a single year.
An interagency database was developed to house information on values that may be at risk from wildfire. The division collects structure data while in the field and inputs into the inter-agency database. Thousands of structures have been collected over the last eight years but as more people move into the remote areas of Alaska, this project continues to expand.
The ability to inventory and display the location of values at risk is hampered by the division’s minimal Geographic Information System (GIS) capability and lack of underlying geospatial data. Sound fire management requires access to data, including vegetation type, land ownership, and values at risk. GIS systems and databases need to be developed and supported for this inventory.
|A3: Core Service - Minimize the impact of fire on the public by reducing human-caused fire starts through education and enforcement, and hazard fuel mitigation.|
Target #1: Reduce the number of human-caused wildfires to below 3.5 fires per capita (per ten thousand) through active management of open burning timeframes and follow-up enforcement actions.
Human-Caused Fires Per Capita (ten thousand)
Analysis of results and challenges: As Alaska's urban interface population increases, so does the potential for human caused fires. There was a slight population decline for Alaska in 2017. Matanuska Susitna Valley (Mat-Su) continues to show the fastest growth rate. In 2017, Mat-Su was one of the few areas to gain population. 2017 population for Mat-Su was 104,166.The Division of Forestry uses statistical analyses to incorporate three established mechanisms to minimize the human-caused fires in Alaska. The first is education. This is primarily done through public service announcements, burn permits, engine patrols, meeting with individual home owners to discuss how to create defensible space around homes (Firewise), and educational opportunities such as Smokey Bear appearances at fairs, schools, and other community events. Timely Facebook updates, twitters, public service announcements and web postings keep the public informed and updated on wildland fire danger. For 2019, the Division plans to have additional public service announcements and an Alaska Firewise website with specific Alaska information such as preventing permafrost melting when mitigating hazardous vegetation around your home. The second mechanism is enforcement and includes written warnings, citations, and oversight of open burning including prevention actions. "Prevention Actions" include site visit and educating the individuals on safe burning practices. Enforcement actions such as warnings and citations are applied when people do not follow the debris burning regulations and state statutes regarding open burning. Collection of suppression costs on escaped fires may occur when dictated by the Attorney General. The final mechanism is through reducing the hazardous vegetation in areas determined to be at high risk from fire. This may entail individual projects such as fuels reduction around homes to large scale landscape manipulation with heavy equipment or prescribed fire.
Each of these prevention mechanisms plays an important role in minimizing human-caused fires in Alaska. As demonstrated in other performance measures, the reduction of hazard vegetation is accomplished not through general funds but through the use of federal funding which has diminished in recent years. The number of education programs and Firewise home assessments have decreased in recent years due to decreasing federal funds. In addition, enforcement actions have also decreased in recent years and may be attributed to the difficulty the Division has retaining experienced prevention officers.
Target #2: Increase the mitigation of hazard fuels through mechanical fuel treatments, prescribed burning, and hand-thinning as identified in Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPP).
Hazardous Fuels Treatment Grant Funds as identified by Federal Grants and Acres Treated
Analysis of results and challenges: The hazard fuels mitigation projects are solely funded by federal grants. In 2009, 2010, and 2011, the division and its cooperators received large federal grants through the stimulus funding to treat acres to reduce the threat of wildland fire to communities and neighborhoods. Additional federal funds have been obtained through the highly competitive Western States Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) grant program. As these federal funding sources decrease, the number of acres treated has decreased.
As addressed in the 2010 Statewide Assessment of Forest Resources, increasing the number of acres treated in Alaska by mechanical, hand thinning, and prescribed burning has been dependent on funds from federal and local governments. Key issues facing Alaska include: the rapid expansion of population into more of the forested lands, the build up of hazardous fuels due to the spruce bark beetle epidemic, and climate change. The magnitude of the hazardous fuels mitigation work, as identified in Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPP) outpaces federal funding available.
A CWPP must identify and prioritize areas for hazardous fuel reduction treatments and recommend the types and methods of treatment that will protect one or more at-risk communities and essential infrastructure. A CWPP must recommend measures that homeowners and communities can take to reduce the ignitability of structures throughout the area addressed by the plan. The division, along with local government partners, fire departments and federal agencies, is active in assisting communities in wildland fire prone areas of Alaska to prepare CWPPs.
In 2018, one hundred and seventeen acres were treated as part of the Community Wildfire Protection Plans. The Stewardship Foresters through the WUI and/or Cohesive Strategy initiated 87 home Firewise assessments and completed 36 follow up visits. Private homes were evaluated for wildland fire risks. Homeowners applied for WUI cost share grants to help offset the costs of reducing their risks. Approximately 58 acres of private lands were treated and $80,915 in costs were reimbursed.
Target #3: Raise public awareness concerning hazardous fuels on private property through an increase in the number of completed Firewise home assessments
Individual Home Assessments Completed (Firewise)
Analysis of results and challenges: The Division of Forestry conducts individual site assessments to assist homeowners with determining if their property and home are defensible from wildland fire. This program, nationally known as Firewise, is an important way to educate the public as to the ways they can protect themselves from the impacts of a wildland fire. The division is actively promoting the concept of homeowner responsibility through these home assessments. In the past this effort was frequently in concert with local fire departments and governments. Homeowners must recognize and take responsibility for the dangers posed by living in a fire prone ecosystem and take appropriate steps to mitigate the hazard. These assessments evaluate and detail the work needed to make individual properties and homes Firewise. A multi-faceted approach, that includes coordinated planning efforts at the local community level, home owner education, and hazard fuel reduction through a variety of methods. This has proven nationally to be the most effective means of imparting this shared responsibility.
In 2010 and 2011, the division received several federal grants to conduct home Firewise assessments on the Kenai Peninsula. This funding source accounts for the large spike in assessments completed during those years. During subsequent years, including 2018, despite a reduction in federal funding, the Division has continued to complete many assessments statewide. The stewardship foresters through a federal cost share program such as the Wildland Urban Interface grants completed 123 home assessments. The areas completed additional 29 home evaluations. These assessments are labor-intensive and are not successfully accomplished without additional personnel.
Fifteen Public Service Announcements were broadcast on the television or radio or printed in the newspaper. There was fire prevention and Firewise information provided at 96 public events such as Fire in Alaska Workshop, home shows and local fairs. There were 98 interviews, 325 FaceBook posts with over 1.6 million views. The 155 Tweets reached over 2,900 recipients. AKfireinfo.com reached over 146,000 viewers.
|A4: Core Service - Ensure cost effectiveness through appropriate fire management.|
Target #1: Minimize the cost per acre burned on lands in remote areas of Alaska in accordance with the Alaska Interagency Wildland Fire Management Plan.
Cost of Fire Suppression Per Acre Burning
Analysis of results and challenges: Analysis of results and challenges: The inter-agency fire management community strives to protect human life, private property and natural and cultural resources, while allowing fire to follow its natural role in the boreal forest. This strategy allows for the protection of identified values while minimizing cost of fire suppression. Fires in the wildland urban interface tend to be expensive due to the large number of homes and businesses that must be protected. The division strives to balance the cost of fire suppression actions with the potential long-term impacts of fire exclusion. The limited protection option is designed for broad, landscape areas where low density and wide distribution of values to be protected best allows for fire to function in its natural role.
Fire managers use a combination of science and experience to make the appropriate decision on each fire as it is discovered. As each fire is reported, fire managers examine the weather collected from remote weather stations, determine the availability of vegetation to burn based on recent weather, and in some cases model fire spread probability based on the fire's location. The probability of the fire's spread to populated areas is estimated and managers make the decision whether full suppression of the fire is the preferred option.
In 2018, 341 fires burned 408,547 thousand acres statewide. The Division of Forestry protection area had 198 fires burning a total of 46,026 thousand acres. This included Critical, Full, Modified, Limited and Unplanned fire management. Urban areas such as Mat Su, Kenai and Fairbanks may have the benefit of more roads and local VFD/SFD. The rural areas such as McGrath, Tok,Copper River and Delta have fewer fire departments. Areas such as McGrath have fewer roads, thus fire suppression relies on aerial support and tends to be more expensive due to aviation costs.
|B: Result - Maintain and support adequate firefighting resources for response to wildland fires.|
Target #1: Fill the firefighting needs for the average fire season with Alaskan firefighters.
Percent of Alaskan Crews & Individuals Assigned to Alaska Fires / Total Needed
Analysis of results and challenges: Department Order 017 identifies that the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry provide a strong initial attack, management and support capability to assure maximum efficiency is achieved for an average fire years based on the historical fire occurrence. As the complexity and length of the fire season increases, the need for experienced personnel to manage these fires has become even more critical. Extensive knowledge and training is necessary to make timely decisions about strategy and tactics. This is more critical as the urban interface environment grows as does the responsibilities to protect lives, homes and communities. A successful program requires a trained, experienced Alaskan firefighting workforce combined with infrastructure, equipment and logistical support.
During the 2018 fire season, approximately 1,168 people, including crew members and individuals, were requested to work on Alaska fires. There were 43 overhead and smoke jumper boosters from the Lower-48 filled the remaining orders. There were 31 crew orders filled with Alaskan crews (100%) with each crew containing 20 crew members.
The division’s need for Lower-48 firefighting resources (agency crews, contract crews, and individuals with advanced training to meet initial and extended attack suppression objectives) should be replaced with increased in-state capacity to provide jobs to Alaskans. In 2018, the Division of Forestry hosted the Alaska Advanced Wildland Firefighter Academy in McGrath. The Academy was a partnership with Koskokwim Corporation, Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC), Association of Village Presidents and Chugachmiut. Twenty-nine students attended the Academy. Of the 28 graduates, two were Wildfire Resource Techs 1s; two were Yukon Crew members, two were hired as short-term non-perm (STNP) McGrath IA; two joined TCC after the academy, two joined Yukon Crew after the academy and one joined UAF Nanook Crew after the academy. Alaska Division of Forestry's 15 short-term, non-perm position for 20 work days. The positions included the two Initial Attack Wildland Fire Modules (McGrath and Copper River) and three personnel to work on the Retardant Base Ramps in Tok, Palmer, and McGrath.
Graduates of the Academy completed 23 taskbooks, went on 13 initial attack assignments, 21 Alaska Fire assignments and 87 Lower-48 fire assignments. As mentioned earlier two of the STNPs were Advanced Fire Fighter Academy graduates. Four of the STNPs were previous year's Academy and two were Alaska Crew Boss Academy Graduates. From 2013 to 2018, 19 of the STNPs have been hired as state employees.The STNP positions have provided opportunities for academy graduates to put into action the skills and knowledge obtained in this training and gain the experience to be hired as state employees.
|B1: Core Service - Provide a qualified firefighting workforce with the resources to respond to wildland fires.|
Target #1: Provide wildland fire training to agency personnel, fire departments and urban and rural communities.
Analysis of results and challenges: A broad range of training is provided to firefighters, ranging from introductory classes for first year firefighters to advanced training for returning firefighters and fire managers. Efficient, cost effective, safe, and successful initial attack relies on the highly trained seasonal firefighters, structure/volunteer local fire departments, local Emergency Firefighters (EFF) and crews. Annual training and certification ensures the availability of this workforce when needed during fire activity and meets national standards which qualify them for further fire assignments.
The division provides extensive training to not only state employees but also to cooperators such as local government employees. There were 1,491 cooperators were trained in wildland fire by the division. Fire management necessitates the use of a large number of emergency firefighters (EFF) who also require appropriate training. In 2018, the division trained over 1275 EFFs. Two new safety classes were offered: bear/gun and boat. The plan for 2019 is to add online OSHA training to ensure compliance. In 2018 added additional aviation/ hazardous material handling for personnel assigned to the ramps/helibase.
The challenge for the division is to ensure that the training provided is meeting the needs of firefighters and managers on Alaska fires. This challenge is currently met with a training staff that plans, coordinates, and provides specific fire courses designed to develop Alaska’s firefighters for the future. These courses are provided to the inter-agency fire community which provides leverage for the Division to provide extensive opportunities to its employees and cooperators.
Target #2: Assist local area fire departments in preparing for wildland fire response by providing wildland fire training and increasing fire department capacity through the Volunteer Fire Assistance grant program.
Local Fire Department Personnel Received Wildland Fire Training
Analysis of results and challenges: Rural fire departments often provide the first responders as the first line of defense in coping with fires and other emergencies in rural communities. The Division of Forestry has VFD/SFD Annual Operating Agreements with 26 departments within the division's fire protection management area. These agreements specifies how the fire department and Forestry will support one another in the suppression of wildland fires within the department’s service area. The division administers federal Volunteer Fire Assistance grants to fire departments through a competitive process to assist department with training, supplies and equipment. In CY2018, the division provided $277,123.43 in pass through grants to a total of 41 fire departments. The Division also provides the departments with the opportunity to obtain federal equipment through the Firefighter Property Program (FFP) and the Federal Excess Personal Property (FEPP).
Many skills taught and used in structural firefighting are similar to skills in wildland firefighting. The division provides basic wildland fire training, annual safety refreshers, and delivers “bridge” courses. These courses bridge the gap between advanced skills and leadership training in the structural fire departments to the advanced skills and leadership requirements in the wildland fire community.
Target #3: Utilize Alaska vendors to supply equipment and services to wildfires.
Alaskan Vendors Supplying Equipment, Supplies, and Services during Fire Suppression Actions
Analysis of results and challenges: Firefighting requires that substantial amounts of equipment and supplies be delivered immediately. However, the equipment and supplies are only needed for short time frames. Therefore, the division has developed a program of Emergency Equipment Rental Agreements to provide equipment such as dozers, boats, ATVs, use of land, fresh food and buses. It provides a cost effective mechanism to provide the Division with equipment needed for a short-term basis. This provides widespread economic stimulus to local Alaskan vendors.These vendors are hired locally, often from the community that is potentially affected by the fire. The 2018 Alaska fire season locally was light. Many of the larger Alaskan fires were off the road system and only accessible by aircraft. Alaska provided Type 1, 2IA and Type 2 crews, aircraft, supplies, overhead and Type I Incident Management Team for support of Lower 48 and Canadian fire assignments.
The state also has the fresh food box contract and the mobile food vendor contract with local vendor. This year, the mobile food contract was not used. However, the fresh box contract was utilized for both state and federal fires. The trend for fire business income continues to be steady.
Current as of July 19, 2019