Combating the Clear Fire

Looking at the evacuation situation
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Published: Jul. 12, 2022 at 5:48 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The ever-growing threat of the Clear Fire continues to push residents out of their homes as the blaze moves east. Few were forced to leave at the beginning of the fire, but with over 50,000 acres of land now burned the number of people fleeing the flames has only grown.

Evacuation efforts however started long before the fire saw a five digit size.

Planning Section Chief, Darron Williams explained, “There’s been communication coordination with the local resources since the fire started.” Those in the communication loop include Anderson city proper, Clear Space Force Station, the residents of Kobe Ag and the Denali Borough.

Such coordination requires a plan and a map for letting people know when to leave. This is executed by identifying what is known in firefighting as the P.A.C.E. model. The abbreviation stands for “primary, alternative, contingency and emergency” lines. These lines correlate with operational suppression and protection lines, as well as resource movement lines. When the incident passes any of the lines, everyone involved in communication is notified that the plans have changed due to the flames crossing the boundary.

However, fire crews do not decide when an area should evacuate. They merely make a map with recommendations based on the fire’s size, activity, and the overall conditions. The decision for a certain area to evacuate from a fire comes from emergency management departments involved in the event. This is one reason why the evacuation maps and evacuation orders sometimes conflict with each other, but the emergency management departments always have the final say. The timeline for assessing the fire when a crew or team makes a new map is based on operational periods ranging from 24 to 48, or even 72 hours.

It’s not only the residents impacted by the blaze that must leave when ordered to do so, but the firefighters themselves must also move their camps when the call comes. Mark Enty, a public information officer for the Clear Fire explained that “[the firefighters] always keep [their] stuff ready to rock and roll for the most part. People are ready to pack up and go by default because [they] understand that could potentially happen anytime.”

When evacuation orders do happen, the crews re-assess and re-establish a base camp. From that point on, a new P.A.C.E. model is developed and the work to stop fire spread begins again.

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