OC And State Of Alaska Place New Restrictions On Burns

May 1, 2020

The State of Alaska suspended all burn permits on Friday in an effort to preemptively stop wildfires.
Credit Hope McKenney/KUCB

The Ounalashka Corporation (OC) announced Thursday that all burns are banned on their property without prior consent.  

This decision follows two large brush fires that broke out on their land in the past two weeks. 

CEO Chris Salts said they don't want to ban fires outright, but want Unalaskans to get permission ahead of time so the corporation can monitor burning and try to prevent brush fires. 

"Despite this cold weather, the lands and the grasses are very dry, and we've had a couple of incidents now where seemingly innocent fires — an industrial burn and a campfire before that — got out-of-hand, and large range fires were the result," said Salts. "So what we'd like to do is require folks to come in and get OC's permission if they want to have a personal burn. That way we can keep a better watch over where fires are going, and we can make sure we are able to counsel the person who wants to make a campfire about where to put it and the safety rules." 

Salts said it's not just a property issue. It's also a safety issue for both Unalaskans and the flora and fauna of the islands, which can be stripped away by brush fires, making the land more susceptible to mudslides when the rains come. 

 

"We're not looking to stop anybody's s'mores or good times in the summer," said Salts. "We are trying to do exactly the opposite. Just trying to keep people aware of the fire danger so we can keep the lands open and available to everybody, and people out of harm's way."

OC still encourages the community to use their lands, according to Salts, but just asks for some cooperation. 

Meanwhile, the State of Alaska suspended all burn permits on Friday in an effort to preemptively stop wildfires.

Tim Mowry, public information officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry, said because of travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, the state will likely lack firefighters and equipment coming from outside of Alaska this year.

 

"At this point, with the COVID-19 situation, there's a lot of uncertainty about the resources we will be able to get from the Lower 48," said Mowry. "We're trying to minimize the exposure of our firefighters to [the disease] by reducing human-caused fires. It's a resource availability question."

The ban does not cover "cooking, warming, or signaling fires that are less than three feet in diameter," such as campfires.

Unalaskans are permitted to have a campfire only if it's less than three feet in diameter and flames are less than two feet tall, it falls under the categories of cooking, warming, or signaling, and it's on their own property or they have written consent from OC, according to Patrick Shipp, fire chief at the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

"It kind of prohibits any burning for any of our industries, and also for people burning trash at their households and other things that they normally do, unless they're cooking, warming, or signaling," said Shipp. 

He elaborated, saying that OC has control over its own land, but if the corporation had not put out their own burn restriction, the state's suspension would still stand on their land. 

"If OC hadn't made any movement, what the state put out would still apply on OC land," said Shipp. "They take the state's restrictions and then add theirs on top of it. You can still go on OC's property, but because OC said no burning at all unless [they] give you permission, you can't do any of those things — cooking, warming, or signalling — unless you have their permission." 

If OC gives permission to burn, and it falls under the state's three authorized categories, Unalaskans are lawfully allowed to burn on OC land. 

OC was entitled to 115,000 acres of land on Unalaska, Amaknak, and Sedanka Islands under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (ANCSA). 

To find out more information or request a permit, call the Ounalashka Corporation at 581-1276 or email Denise Rankin, Property Manager, at rankin@ounalashka.com