Guide: Fairbanks North Star Borough evacuation plans for wildfire season

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Published: Jul. 8, 2022 at 4:44 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - In extreme situations, residents of the Fairbanks North Star Borough may be forced to evacuate their homes due to wildfire activity in their area.

In many cases, these evacuations are on a small scale. Other times, larger areas need to be cleared.

If an evacuation involves only a handful of families, evacuees are given vouchers to stay in a hotel. “If it’s larger scale, and its community, like a whole neighborhood subdivision area, then we open an evacuation facility,” said Nancy Durham, Emergency Manager with the borough.

These shelters are manned by the American Red Cross, which also provides resources. “They’ll go and set up the shelter with their resources, so that includes water, food, stuff like that,” Durham explained.

Other items, such as cots to sleep on, might be contracted out to agencies that have them in supply.

During the summer, schools in the borough prove to be ideal for emergency shelters “because they have gyms and showers and areas that people can actually settle into for that short timeframe,” according to Durham.

Because they are not as heavily used during the summer, school buildings also provide plenty of space. “Like, you could set families up in classrooms, and if it’s individuals, you can have women in one room, men in another, and kind of have that separation for protection and safety and privacy and everything.”

Pets and other animals, meanwhile, go to the Tanana Valley Fairgrounds per an agreement with the borough. “As long as the fair’s not going on, we can utilize that through that agreement, and our Animal Control goes and pre-stages, which currently it is pre-staged up there in case we do hit that level of evacuation and we do need to evacuate for pets.”

The borough uses a three-level evacuation alert system to keep residents aware of their proximity to danger.

Level 1 is Ready. This means there is a fire in the area, and those nearby should be checking news and social media for more information. “A thunderstorm, lightning could easily set a fire in your area, so that’s when we’re telling you ‘Have all your stuff ready. Start gathering your information, make sure you know exactly where it is so you can grab it and go,’” said Durham.

Level 2 is Set. Those in an area with a Set alert should be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. “You went and bought whatever you needed that you didn’t have. You had all that in Ready. Well, now let’s move it to that location by the door.”

Level 3 is Go. This means leave immediately. “That fire is close to you. You may not get out. Grab your stuff and go,” Durham said.

When issuing a go order, the borough factors in how long it would take to set up shelters and get the word out to residents. “There might be only a very small team of troopers where they’re going door to door knocking on your door to say, because not everybody has radio. They don’t have TV. They don’t all have internet or newspaper.”

Evacuees are encouraged to remember the six Ps: People, Pets, Pills, Photos, Personal Information including backup information from one’s computer, and important papers like a passport and Driver’s License.

Emergency Kits in Alaska should last 7 days because “shelves become empty. Barges break. Roads are impassable. Goods can’t get up to us so we can go buy them.”

Evacuation zones cannot be evenly labeled by subdivision, so those living near an area that is being evacuated may need to go too. “If you see this bubble, and you’re not in it, but you’re next to it, that means it includes you as well, so please listen to those alerts,” urged Durham.

More information about the borough’s emergency system can be found here.

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