Alaska Governor issues Disaster Declaration for South-central Wildfires
August 14th, just days before the massive McKinley fire started, the Division of Forestry expressed thoughts of the fire season in Alaska waning this year by lowering the state’s preparedness level to 2. Since that time the state has reignited. The Division says the dry conditions in other parts of the state are a major factor for the resurgence of the wildfire season.
The governor's declaration will provide aid for damages caused by the McKinley, Deshka Landing, and Swan Lake wildfires. The Matanuska-Susitna and Kenai Peninsula Boroughs will benefit from the declaration. According to the governor's office, the declaration allows residents affected by the fires to a apply for the State of Alaska Individual Assistance program. The program provides relief to both families and individuals with property damage, medical expenses related to the fires, and also arranges temporary housing.
The declaration also allows communities, government organizations, and certain non-profits to sign up for the State of Alaska Public Assistance program, which repairs infrastructure damaged by the fires.
On Saturday, the governor flew over the fires near Palmer with Vern Halter, the Mat-Su Borough Mayor. Both the governor and the mayor spoke about the condition of the area during a press conference held after the flyover.
"I think we all knew last weekend when the wind really whipped up," said Governor Dunleavy; "I think we were crossing our fingers that there wouldn't be any fires. Unfortunately there were. This has been a real dry year.”
Mayor Halter followed the governor by saying "I think the governor is right. When we were flying up over, we went just right over the ridge-line up here… just the enormous amount of dead spruce everywhere. It’s incredible, the dryness right now. We could get another fire going real easy. It's a serious thing. That's why the fire ban is in place. Please honor it everybody. Don't throw cigarette butts out the car window, no campfires, no burn fires, no warming fires. Let's be careful right now."
The fires are also having impacts on one of the state's biggest gatherings. According to the Alaska State Troopers, the Annual Night of Fireworks held at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer is canceled this year. A press release from the troopers says current weather conditions and depleted firefighting resources are the reason for the shows cancellation.
The Division of Forestry and other entities are continuing to fight the blazes, but it is not yet clear when fires in South-central are expected to die down.