Capital City Fire/Rescue firefighters move to extinguish a trailer fire in early March. CCFR officials talk about the importance of staying fire safe as spring approaches. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Recent fires emphasize importance smoke detectors, fire awareness

Two recent fatal incidents, illegal burns prompt reminders from local fire officials

With two recent fatal fires in Juneau during the month of March, Capital City Fire/Rescue wants to remind people of the importance of staying safe and mindful as spring approaches and along with it the open burn season.

CCFR fire marshal Dan Jager said the department has been running into issues of people starting their burns without realizing the appropriate timeline.

“We’ve had a lot of people, especially over this last weekend, starting to do burns and not realize that if you’re in the Lemon Creek or Mendenhall Valley areas it’s not authorized until May 1,” Jager said. “Also, we’re also looking to implement the use of a new open burn permit application, so if you get on your phone or computer you can go to the site and we issue burn permits that way rather than the traditional way that we’ve done it in previous years through the CBJ website.”

Jager said the application is a new feature the department is giving a try through the Western Fire Chiefs Association, which is allowing CCFR to be a trial department for the entire summer to see if the system is something that could be applied in Alaska with the same level of success as states from the Lower 48 have experienced.

“Honestly, it sounds like it’s fairly successful,” Jager said. “It’s intuitive and user friendly. We just started this week with our own internal staff playing around with the app itself, what are the features and how it works. One of the main things is that you can put in your address and it will tell you right away whether you’re in a burn restricted area or not, which is definitely helpful for folks to know. It’s really just to help people plan out their open burn.”

On the early morning of Friday, March 3, a trailer fire in the Glacier View Trailer Park claimed the lives of a Juneau resident and two dogs, which was believed to be started by an electric toaster. Jager said that while the case of that particular fire was more of an isolated incident, the department always warns residents of the dangers of leaving cooking food unattended.

“No matter what kind of appliance or cooking device people have that they follow the directions but also don’t leave it unattended, just like with candles,” Jager said. “I always tell people, if you use them, that’s fine but it’s strongly recommended that you don’t leave them unattended in case something happens. I’m not sure that this would have made a difference on that fatal fire or not, maybe, maybe not, it all depends, but those are really in general the big things the fire service tries to stress to residents, if you’re doing any kind of cooking, stay in the area until you’re done and then make sure all devices or open flames are completely off so that way you lessen the chances of something happening.”

Jager said another concern to be mindful of as open burn season approaches, is the drier conditions from spring into summer through what is referred to as “brown up,” which Jager said typically takes place between April through the end of May where trees and grass go through brown conditions before everything starts to bloom.

“That’s a particular concern for us just because those dead trees and grasses are easily ignited when we have periods of time where we have a lot of wind that dries them out or we have warmer temperature conditions,” Jager said. “So, when people are doing their open burns, it’s on our radar to tell people to use caution. Don’t be burning in large areas without a water source or a way to contain it in case it gets away, just be extra cautious because the conditions are so much dryer.”

For anyone who might be interested in going a step further with fire prevention through volunteering with CCFR or applying for a staff position, Jager said the department is currently accepting applications for several job openings, as well as are always accepting volunteers.

“While it might sound like we have large numbers, we never have enough help for some of our larger calls,” Jager said. “Or maybe some of the calls that might not be large but we have multiple incidents happening at the same time, like the last two fires we had last month, we had a lot of our resources dedicated to the fire efforts but we still had ambulance calls for other situations from around the city that people had coming in. So, that becomes a challenge, as well.”

Jager said those interested should visit the City and Borough of Juneau’s website and click on the CCFR tab for further information or stop by the department’s headquarters downtown on Glacier Avenue.

• Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at jonson.kuhn@juneauempire.com.

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