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: In 2019, over 2.5 million acres burned in Alaska, making it the 8th largest fire season in terms of acreage burned since 1950, and well above the 1.2 million 10-year average. Alaskan wildfire seasons over one million acres have increased by 50% since 1990, as compared with the period from 1950-1989. 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 season kicked off to a fast start on April 30, when a warm, early spring helped ignite the Oregon Lakes fire, southeast of Delta Junction. As the summer progressed, many areas experienced record-high temperatures. Several days of heavy lighting strikes in late June brought several double-digit increases in the total daily fire count.
July 2019 was the warmest month on record in Alaska, with July 4th being the warmest day ever reported in Anchorage at 90 degrees. Several weather stations in South Central set all time high records that week. This was on the heels of a record-warm June in many of these areas, then followed by a warm and exceedingly dry August. With several wildfires burning in Southcentral Alaska and high fire danger persisting due to continued warm, dry conditions, Alaska’s statutory wildfire season was extended from August 31 to September 30, the first time this has happened since 2006. Northern Alaska followed a more typical fire season pattern, with rains coming at the beginning of August to temper conditions.
An above average 722 fire occurred this year, with most regions of the state seeing higher than usual fire occurrence. 332 fires were human caused, with 369 caused by lightning. Several large fires in the Kenai, Mat-Su and Fairbanks areas burned in or near the wildland-urban interface, which necessitated large responses from division fire suppression resources and necessitated drawing upon crews, overhead and aerial resources from across the Lower-48 and Canada for assistance.
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 (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 2019, the first AQA was issued by DEC on May 2nd for the Central Interior in response to the Oregon Lakes fire burning south of Delta Junction, AK. Several more advisories were issued for the same fire throughout the rest of May. On June 15th, the first AQA for the Kenai Peninsula due to smoke from the Swan Lake Fire. As the Swan Lake Fire continued to grow, it triggered numerous AQAs for the rest of June, July and August for the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral. Numerous large fires burning in Southwest Alaska triggered AQAs over the entire state during June, July, and August. Interior Alaska was also affected by wildfire smoke from Canada during certain periods this summer.
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 extensive training and adherence to the National Incident Management System’s physical fitness and position qualification standards according to job duties. 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. In 2019, the division implemented “Safety Hub”, a web-based platform which efficiently delivers on-line safety training to division personnel across the state.
The division has been extremely proactive in the implementation of these mitigation measures, but continued work is necessary. Injury trend analyses are constantly used to target training needs and mitigation measures. 2019 saw an increase in firefighter burns received from ashpits, due to the extreme dryness of the duff layer. Safety bulletins were created to address the issue as well as a targeted safety video that was hosted on the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center website.
|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: Alaska fire management agencies have collaborated to develop wildfire management options that consider a full spectrum of responses to wildfire- from suppression actions designed to contain and control fire growth, to periodic surveillance of fires that are allowed to spread naturally across the landscape. These management options (Critical, Full, Modified, Limited) are employed statewide by federal and state agencies in order to prioritize areas for protection actions and the allocation of available firefighting resources to achieve protection objectives, optimize agency land use plans, and strive to keep fire suppression costs commensurate with values at risk.
The Critical and Full Management options encompass areas within communities and immediately surrounding communities or areas with high values at risk. while the Full Management option typically encompasses wildlands near communities.
In 2019, there were 202 wildland fires that started in the Critical Management option, with the division suppressing 191 of the fires at 10 acres or less for a 95% success rate. Extremely dry and windy conditions caused several notable 'Critical' fires that escaped initial attack, including the McKinley Fire in the Mat-su Area which grew to 3,288 acres, and the Shovel Creek Fire in the Fairbanks Area which grew to 22,487 acres. In addition to extreme conditions, statewide fire resources were heavily taxed by the number of fires throughout the season, causing shortages in Initial Attack personnel, aircraft, engines and fire management teams. Numerous fires in the "Full" management option, primarily in Southwest Alaska, were not able to be initially attacked due to this lack of resources, resulting in a lower than average 70% success rate.
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 2019, 158 structures were lost due to wildland fire. Fifty-seven of these structures were classified as single family residences and 3 were classified as commercial. The other structures were classified as outbuildings which include green houses, sheds, outhouses, etc. Of the structures lost this season, 139 were burned on the McKinley Fire, north of Willow, AK (57 residences, 84 outbuildings, 3 commercial buildings). This fire started after a record breaking dry period for the area during an extreme wind event which pushed the fire through multiple subdivisions on the Parks Highway before initial attack forces could contain the spread. Given the extreme and prolonged fire conditions south of the Alaska Range, property loss likely would have been much higher without the division's aggressive response to emergent initial attack and ongoing project fires.
Firefighting resources respond first to fires with permitted 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 en route 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. Fire and land management agencies collect structure data while in the field and enter it into the interagency 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.
|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: Alaska population statistics are taken from 2018 census data and have remained relatively stable since 2010. The Division of Forestry uses statistical analyses to incorporate three established mechanisms to minimize human-caused fires in Alaska. The first is education. This is primarily accomplished through public service announcements, burn permits, engine patrols, individual meetings with homeowners to discuss how to create defensible space around homes (Firewise), and educational opportunities at fairs, schools, and other community events. An increased presence on social media with public service announcements and web postings keep the public informed and updated on wildland fire danger.
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 primarily through the use of federal funding in the form of Wildland Urban Interface grants. 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.
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 2019, 1,682 acres were treated as part of the Community Wildfire Protection Plans. The Stewardship Foresters through the WUI and/or Cohesive Strategy initiated 209 home Firewise assessments and completed 76 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 113 acres of private lands were treated and $143,473 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 (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, 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.
The division’s public information received more than 3,800 phone calls/emails/Facebook messages regarding fire information in 2019 and conducted more than 400 media interviews over the course of the season. Social media played a huge role in the dissemination of wildfire information and remains the primary tool used by the Division of Forestry (DOF) to reach the public and statewide media. The DOF Facebook page gained nearly 13,000 followers during the 2019 fire season and now stands at just under 40,000 followers. DOF had 1,135 Facebook post between January 1 and August 31. Posts on the DOF Facebook page reached more than 8.5 million people this year compared to 1.6 million in 2018. The DOF Facebook page had a total of 836,850 engagements (reactions, likes, comments, shares) this season compared to 29,420 in 2018. The interagency fire information blog, akfireinfo.com, which DOF maintains in partnership with the BLM Alaska Fire Service, gained approximately 45,000 followers in increasing it to 107,118 in 2019. The blog had more than 1.8 million views this season compared to 146,435 in 2018. There were approximately 900 posts on akfireinfo.com this season, an increase of almost 800 over last year.
|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.
In 2019, 721 fires burned 2,586,063 acres statewide. The Division of Forestry protection area had 424 fires burning a total of 893,127 acres. this includes Critical, Full, Modified, Limited and Unplanned fire management areas.
Urban areas such as Mat-Su, Kenai and Fairbanks typically have less acreage burned due to the receiving a greater amount of fire suppression around urban areas in the Critical, Full and Modified option areas. Southwest, Tok, Delta and Copper River areas are more remote, and have a greater amount of Limited protection, and typically have larger fires with more acreage burned.
Fire costs in 2019 were greater than average due primarily to several long duration and expensive fires burning near population centers (Shovel Creek, McKinley, Swan Lake, Deshka) which required Incident Management Teams. These costs were offset on a per acreage basis by a larger than average amount of acreage burned in the areas, as opposed to 2017 and 2018, in which case very few acres burned, causing the cost/acre to appear very high.
|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.
During the long and busy 2019 fire season, over 6000 individuals, including members on teams and or crews as well as individual overhead, were requested to work on Alaska fires. Every state except for Connecticut sent personnel to assist with Alaskan fires. Alaska received twenty-seven National Interagency Coordination Center contract jets for a total of 135 crews (71% crews). April 27th the first Alaskan Crew was assigned to the Oregon Lakes Fire and by May13th all Alaskan Interagency Hotshot Crews were committed. The first Lower 48 jet load arrived with five crews on June 19th and the last Lower 48 crew was released on September 12th. The last Alaskan Crew was released on September 24th. Sixteen Alaskan Emergency Fire Fighter (EFF) crews had a total of 47 assignments.
Fifteen lower 48 Interagency Management Teams (IMT) were assigned to the 2019 Alaskan fires to assist the local fire management offices. The type and number of personnel comprising the team depends on the fire complexity and fire risk. Both Alaskan Type 2 IMT were assigned a total of 6 times. The first Alaska Type 2 Team assignment was on May 4th for the Oregon Lake Fire outside of Delta. On May 17th the first Lower 48 Type 2 Team was assigned and on September 23rd the last Lower 48 team was released from the Swan Lake fire on the Kenai Peninsula.
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. This summer the Division funded and hired twenty Short Term Non-Perms (STNP) for thirty days. Several STNP were assigned to McGrath as part of the wildland fire module while other areas received individual STNP. Positions included Wildland Fire Technicians, Dispatchers and Office Assistants.
From 2013 to 2019, thirty of the STNPs have been hired by various agencies and organizations. Of these twenty-two have been hired by the Division of Forestry. The STNP program has again proven that it provides 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. Of the 2019 STNP, one had graduated from the Alaska Crew Boss Academy, eight had previously graduated from the previous years Advance Academy. One STNP was hired as a permanent Forestry employee.
|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.
The division provides extensive training to not only state employees but also to cooperators such as local government employees. There were 1,449 cooperators trained in wildland fire by the division. Fire management necessitates the use of a large number of EFFs who also require appropriate training. In 2019, the division trained over 1,031 EFFs. Online safety and OSHA training were added in 2019 for regular division employees.
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 CY2019, the division provided $244,999 in pass through grants to a total of 42 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 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.
The 2019 fire season was very busy, with several large fires burning near population centers in the Kenai, Mat-su and Fairbanks Areas. These fires required large Incident management teams, and were long in duration. The Swan Lake Fire in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was the most expensive fire in Alaska history. Alaska-based vendors were relied upon heavily to supply equipment, supplies and services to assist in this season's firefighting efforts. A new catering contract awarded several years ago was used extensively for the first time this year. Fresh food boxes are also supplied by an Alaskan vendor, and were ordered in record numbers for fires across the state. Many of the support costs, such as lodging and food for thousands of fire personnel that traveled from the Lower 48 are not all able to be captured in these numbers, and true income to Alaska businesses are most likely substantially higher.
Current as of September 9, 2020