As fire season begins, a small blaze sparks at Flattop in Anchorage

A mountainside covered in gravel and dirty, where two people are doing trail work in construction hats.
The view near the summit of Flattop, looking back at Peak Two and the new backside trail. (Emily Russell/Alaska Public Media)

A small wildfire broke out near the popular Flattop Mountain parking lot in Anchorage late Tuesday night. The Anchorage Fire Department described the burn as a 100 square-foot brush fire that was under control in less than half an hour. 

The cause of the fire is undetermined, AFD assistant chief Erich Scheunemann said. But fires are generally caused by humans or by lightning strikes, he added — and he’s unaware of any lightning in the area Tuesday night. 

The small wildfire comes as Alaska moves into the third month of the state’s fire season, which begins April 1. 

Alaska Division of Forestry spokesperson Tim Mowry said April and May are typically dry months prone to fire before summer vegetation comes in. Sparks from burn piles are often the culprit this time of year, he said.

Lightning-caused fires start to show up in early June.

“We sort of have two fire seasons in Alaska,” Mowry said. “We have the human-caused pre-greenup season, and then we have sort of the lightning season, post-greenup. We’re still waiting to see how much lightning we get and where those fires occur.”

Mowry said it’s hard to tell what this year’s fire season will look like because it’s largely dependent on the weather and the amount of lightning storms. 

So far in 2021, 111 fires have been reported to the Division of Forestry, said Mowry. All but three were human-caused. 

“If you’re going to have a campfire, I just say people need to use common sense,” Mowry said. “Drown your fire before you leave and follow safe burning practices while you’re doing it. And if you’re going to do any kind of debris burning or use a burn barrel, you need a burn permit, and follow the safe guidelines on the burn permit.”

Burn barrels and brush or debris burning is currently banned in the Mat-Su Borough and on the Kenai Peninsula because of dry weather and high wildland fire risk. Almost half of this year’s fires were in the Mat-Su.

Mowry warned the state is also stepping up enforcement of burning rules, and is issuing citations for violations.

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Kavitha George is the host of Alaska Morning News at Alaska Public Media. She also reports on business, labor and the economy. Reach her at kgeorge@alaskapublic.org.