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: Long term trends show that Alaska's fire seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer, although there is significant and unpredictable variability in acreage burned from season to season, which creates challenges in determining pre-season preparedness levels and resource allocation. After one of the largest Alaska fire seasons on record last year, 2020 was below average in terms of number of fires and acres burned (340 fires for 181,253 acres), though the division was able to successfully respond and contain numerous potential "problem" fires in Critical and Full management option areas.
The division's primary challenge of 2020 was in providing a qualified workforce with necessary procedures and equipment in place to safely respond to wildland fires in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Issues stemming from the pandemic began to arise just before the onboarding of the seasonal workforce and the wildland fire training season in early March. Travel restrictions necessitated the cancellation and rescheduling of firefighter training, which created difficulty in division personnel meeting mandatory training, as well as in the development needed higher qualifications. On-site readiness inspections had to be cancelled, and the interagency Spring Operations Meeting had to be postponed and was eventually conducted virtually. The dissemination of information and protocols for conducting standard business created a lag in 2020 fire season preparedness, but the assignment of a COVID-19 Incident Management Team within DOF was key in eventually getting protocols and information flow corrected. Another challenge was coordinating and developing standards within the framework of the interagency environment, which is key in the successful wildland fire management in Alaska. There were conflicting policies between Federal and State agencies, which created delays in being able to mobilize resources on several fires during the season.
|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 (AQA) 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.
In 2020, air quality due to wildfires was not a major issue for residents within Alaska. DEC issued three wildfire related air quality advisories between June 5th and June 15th for the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding communities in response to several early-season fires burning on the refuge. There was some concern from the public about smoke at several points throughout the summer, but this was determined to be drift smoke coming from fires in Siberia.
Target #2: Minimize lost work days for firefighters.
Firefighter Safety: Total Days Lost
Analysis of results and challenges: The inherit risk in all firefighting activity was made clear this year with the unfortunate aircraft accident that occurred during a mission to transport three emergency firefighters from Hooper Bay to Soldotna for training. 909AK, DOF's logistics "Shrike" fixed wing aircraft, lost power on take-off out of Aniak due to incorrect fuel, and crashed in a shallow pond just beyond the airstrip. Fortunately, there were no fatalities, but injuries to the passengers ranged from minor to serious, and the aircraft was destroyed. DOF aviation and safety managers are working with interagency partners to develop training and/or protocols to mitigate the chances of an accident like this happening again. The division is now looking for a way to replace 909AK in order to be able to efficiently complete its mission.
Despite the challenges created by COVID-19, DOF continued to maintain a safe fire line operational record by emphasizing safety of firefighters and the public as the top priority. Some of 2020's decline in lost workdays (due to injury) is attributable to less employee hours worked with the slower than average Alaska season. Online safety training (SafetyHub) saved instructor travel expenses, and efficiently delivered training to DOF employees across the State when classroom training was not possible due to COVID-19. Mandatory training for all division personnel includes an annual Fireline Safety Refresher, CPR/1st Aid and defensive driving training, and complement of OSHA training related to general workplace safety. Initial certification and daily tailgate safety sessions include proper use of firefighting equipment such as chainsaws, engines, forklifts, dozers, and safety analysis of firefighting facilities to mitigate hazards.
|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: Fire Management Options (Critical, Full, Modified, Limited) are areas that have been predesignated by federal and state fire managers in Alaska to geographically prioritize initial protection actions. The Fire Management Options help allocate available firefighting resources, optimize agency land use plans, and keep fire suppression costs commensurate with values at risk. The Critical and Full management option areas respectively receive the first and second highest priority for fire suppression, and are usually found surrounding communities or other areas with numerous values at risk.
A key goal of the division is to contain 90% of wildland fires at less than 10 acres within Critical and Full management option areas. In 2020, 98% of fires in the Critical management option and 89% of fires within the Full management option were contained at less than 10 acres. Several of these fires had potential to threaten structures and other urban values if they were not suppressed and kept small. One notable exception was the early-season Trumpeter Fire in the Kenai, which ignited in late April in a Critical suppression area and grew to 139 acres, before being contained. The Any Creek fire in Fairbanks area was ignited in a Full suppression area and was limited to 44 acres after having received extremely aggressive initial attack with aircraft and fire personnel. Any Creek had started in the area of Shovel Creek fire from 2019, which grew to over 22,000 acres, necessitating evacuations and eventually costing over $20 million dollars
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: In 2020, no known structures were burned in DOF protection areas, which is a record low for the last 10 years. While this could be attributed to the low number of acres burned, it is hard to say if any structures would have lost had DOF not suppressed the170 wildland fires that it did in this year. Two notable fires with high potential for impacting structures were the Any Creek fire in Fairbanks area (suppressed at 44 acres) and the Trumpeter fire in Kenai area (suppressed at 139 acres). Both of these fires were located within densely populated areas, and in the case of the Trumpeter Fire, required direct protection of structures from the fire.
Fire management agencies prioritize the protection of permitted structures and determine the chance of success of based on the location of fire start, weather, fuel characteristics, and fuels reduction work done in advance by homeowners to protect their own property. It is imperative that fire managers identify values at risk within the vicinity of a developing fire as soon as possible if they are to be protected. The Known Sites Database (KSD) is an interagency tool that houses the location of structures and other values, and is especially useful in rural areas where there is a lack of municipal structure records. Fire and land management agencies collect site data while in the field and enter it into the KSD. Thousands of sites have been collected over the last eight years and as more people move into the remote areas of Alaska, this project continues to expand.
|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: During 2020 public education outreach efforts regarding new changes to DOFs fire prevention program and efforts was expanded statewide to include updates to the divisions burn permit website; the introduction of newly revised small and large scale burn permits; direct mailings to more than 100,000 residents about small and large scale burn permit requirements; the development and launching of several PSAs regarding the "Take Time to LEARN before You Burn" campaign and program changes; interagency law enforcement training regarding enforcement of the wildland fire protection laws; enhanced training for field staff and managers; the commissioning of 16 DOF peace officers, and the naming and branding of DOFs new fire prevention mascot "Spruce the Moose". All of this in the effort to reduce human caused wildfires in critical Western Urban Interface zones by 10% annually based on a five-year average of previous fire activity. To date, DOF has met successfully met this goal now for two seasons in a row.
Public education of the statute changes, regulations, bail schedule, are being delivered in public forums across state as part of an effort to reduce human caused fires. The public education platform "Learn before You Burn" was initiated in 2019 and will continue through the 2020 and 2021 fire seasons with the primary goal of reducing human caused fires.
Target #2: Increase the mitigation of hazard fuels through mechanical fuel treatments, prescribed burning, and hand-thinning as identified in Community Wildfire Protection Plans.
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 2020, 201 acres were treated as part of the Community Wildfire Protection Plans.
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 (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. The program includes coordinated planning efforts at the local community level, homeowner 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.
Despite a reduction in federal funding, the division has continued to complete assessments statewide. Stewardship Foresters initiated 150 home Firewise assessments and completed 105 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 83 acres of private lands were treated and $201,361 in costs were reimbursed.
|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: 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.
The high urban fire cost/acre this year as compared to 2019 can primarily be attributed to the large number of acres that burned in urban areas in 2019 versus the small amount that burned this year. The extraordinarily large number of acres that burned in 2019 spreads out the costs out on a per acre basis. This year there were very few acres burned in urban areas, but two fires had significant expense due to extremely aggressive initial attack (Trumpeter and Any Creek fires), which inflates the cost/acre.
In rural areas, the low cost/acre in 2020 was due to the fact that most of the fires, including some larger early season fires in the southwest, were in Limited suppression areas and not suppressed.
|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 year 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 are necessary to make timely decisions about strategy and tactics. This is more critical as the urban interface environment and the responsibilities to protect lives, homes and communities continues to grow. A successful program requires a trained, experienced Alaskan firefighting workforce combined with infrastructure, equipment, and logistical support.
Within DOF Fire Management Areas, there has been a consistent turnover of fire managers, Type 3 Incident Commanders, Division Supervisors as well as dispatch and aviation personnel. Recruitment and retention of a qualified firefighting force within the DOF has been challenging due to the short season of employment combined with more competitive wages and benefits in the private and Federal sectors. Despite the slower than average Alaska fire season, Alaska still needed to order 344 single resource overhead, 9 crews and 13 aircraft to be mobilized from the L-48 for assistance. 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.
The division hired fifteen short term non-permanent positions (STNP) for thirty days each. These STNPs were divided among the DOF areas and helped to fill basic firefighting personnel needs such as engine and helicopter crewmembers and wildland fire dispatchers. 30 task books were issued for these positions, and by the end of the season 5 were certified as "full qualified". A five person STNP helitack module with was formed in McGrath, providing the area with additional capacity to provide helicopter supported initial attack in the area, while providing the STNPs with valuable fire experience.
|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 ensure the availability of this workforce when needed during fire activity and meets national standards which qualify them for further fire assignments.
In 2020, DOF provided 64 training sessions and physical fitness tests to more than 945 personnel including EFF, volunteer fire department and State of Alaska personnel. This number is lower than average due to the pandemic, but reformatted training venues and increased use of virtual platformed enabled DOF to meet minimal numbers for a qualified workforce in 2020.
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 specify 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 CY2020, the division provided $225,000 in pass through grants to a total of 32 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 and annual safety refreshers. 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 substantial amounts of equipment and supplies to be delivered in a short amount of time, often for only a very short amount of time. Therefore, the division has developed a program of emergency equipment rental agreements to provide equipment such as dozers, boats, ATVs, land use agreements, fresh food, and buses. 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.
In 2020, wildland fire response contributed to Alaska's economy by utilizing 149 equipment and supply vendors, for over $2.6 million worth of services. These vendors provide services such as food, equipment, fuel, and other support needed to support wildland fire fighters in the field.
Current as of November 19, 2020