Unusual winter weather in the Mat-Su Valley is prompting fire officials to ask residents to be extra careful.
The mid-winter fire warnings come after Red Flag warnings last week. On Tuesday, there were no active burn bans, but fire officials wanted people to be careful as dry and exposed brush could easily catch on fire from embers caught by wind.
"We've had snow-free Novembers and snow-free Marches,” said Norm McDonald with the Division of Forestry, “but this is the first I can remember (being) snow-free like this in January and February … this is definitely out of the norm even for the Palmer/Wasilla area where you get the winds. "
Dry, exposed ground mixed with high winds left one Valley home gutted by fire in recent days, an example of how challenging it is to fight a blaze in these dry winter conditions.
“We had an automatic eight from Mat-Su,” said Palmer Assistant Fire Chief Todd Russell about the recent fire. “They brought in an additional four tankers. We requested the Butte to respond with tankers. They sent two and we actually asked for one tanker out of Sutton, and in addition to that we had one from West Lakes.”
Even with all hands on deck it took gour hours to put out the fire.
“It was too far gone by the by the time the chief got here, so he already said it was already 90 percent involved,” Russel said. “With the winds, it just made it even more impossible. And that's why it's a total loss."
Two people were treated for smoke inhalation from the blaze. The cause of the fire is still unknown, but it’s under investigation by the state Fire Marshal’s Office. Local fire officials want people to be extra careful if they plan on burning anything outdoors.
“I think a lot of people this time of year are used to lighting a burn barrel or their fire and leaving, but we advise people whatever they light, when they leave, make sure it's out," McDonald cautioned.
With snow in the forecast, there’s a possibility of seeing winter-like conditions in the coming days. That means fire dangers could fade, but until the snow arrives, firefighters and foresters in the Valley said they’ll remain on high alert.