Eintime Conversion for education and research 05-14-2006 @ 17:21:32
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Fire Early Alaska*

Fire season starts early in Alaska

ANCHORAGE (AP) — Fire season began Tuesday — two weeks earlier than normal — in southcentral Alaska.

That means anyone who wants to do any open burning must first get a permit.

Much of southcentral Alaska is vulnerable because of a skimpy snowpack and dry weather, said Joe Stam, chief of fire and aviation for the state Division of Forestry.

In Anchorage, all burning has been banned throughout the municipality since April 7 except for fires in approved appliances, such as barbecue grills, said Tom Kempton of the Anchorage Fire Department.

Greenup, when trees sprout leaves and new ground vegetation covers dead, dry grass, is still a month away. But the snowpack is 50% below normal and many areas in Southcentral are already snow-free, exposing flammable materials to the dry air, Stam said.

In Homer, there was so little snow over the winter that instead of being matted down, the dead grasses are standing, creating more surface area for potential fires, Stam said.

Already this year, 58 wildfires have burned across 714 acres throughout the state. Most ignited in March, the first time in a decades wildfires have occurred so early, the Anchorage Daily News.

State law usually sets fire season from May 1 to September 30. During fire season, a permit is needed to do any open burning except for small cooking and warming fires. The permits allow the state to monitor the burns, Stam said.

People with burn permits have to call the Division of Forestry when they intend to start a fire. The agency can forbid fires even by permit holders if it feels the day's conditions present too much of a risk, Stam said.

If conditions worsen, state authorities can ban all burning.

Tuesday's fire season start affects the Mat-Su area, the Kenai Peninsula, the Kodiak Archipelago and the Municipality of Anchorage.


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