Recent wildfire response slowed by miscommunication

Juneau firefighters slow to engage without nod from Forest Service

Response to a brush fire last Friday night near Sunshine Cove took longer than expected due to a miscommunication.

“The first call was made at 10:11 p.m, and they didn’t show up until 1:30 a.m.,” said Zach Hansmann, a local who happened to be on scene that evening. He, along with his wife and some friends, formed a bucket chain going up the hill to slow the spread of the fire.

The fire occurred north of the Shrine of St. Therese, outside the bounds of Capital City Fire/Rescue’s jurisdiction, Fire Chief Richard Ethridge said.

“It’s where the tax base ends. Out there, we don’t charge the residents fire tax,” Ethridge said.

When CCFR got the call last Saturday, they notified the U.S. Forest Service immediately, Ethridge said. Normally, USFS would either indicate the fire was covered or ask for assistance.

But neither happened.

“(CCFR) said that was out of their jurisdiction and Forest Service would be out Monday morning to investigate,” Hansmann said.

Meanwhile, Hansmann and other locals kept pouring water on the fire, trying to stop it from spreading.

Eventually, CCFR was called again.

“We got a call that it was still burning, so we went out in the middle of the night and took care of it until the Forest Service arrived in the morning,” said Ethridge.

The boundaries of fire jurisdiction are set for a reason, he said, and the only people who can change them are the communities. Those not connected to Juneau would have to vote to fall under the umbrella of CCFR’s fire coverage, which would result in additional taxes.

Members of the Forest Service didn’t comment on the delay in communication between CCFR and USFS.

“We have a cooperative fire agreement in place that identifies how we will work together to provide fire suppression,” said USFS public affairs officer Paul Robbins.

Firefighter injured during brush fire response

According to a press release sent out shortly after the fire, CCFR doesn’t often respond to fires outside of its jurisdiction because it ties up resources and personnel that paying citizens inside the jurisdiction have a right to expect. Citizens who paid taxes are shortchanged, the press release said.

Ethridge said firefighters were sitting down to talk the call through and see if there were other ways of streamlining the process to avoid the kinds of miscommunication there was on the night of the fire.

“It would have spread down the beach more into the taller spruce and probably would have crossed the road within a couple hours,” Hansmann said.

Hansmann said that they found evidence of fireworks when they arrived on scene. The fire marshal is investigating, Ethridge said.


• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 523-2271 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.


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