Fire Management Plans
Granite Creek Fire, near Delta Junction, Alaska
Role of Fire in the Alaskan Environment
Fire has been a natural force in the Alaskan Interior for thousands of years. It is a key environmental factor in these cold-dominated ecosystems. Without fire, organic matter accumulates, the permafrost table rises, and ecosystem productivity declines. Vegetation communities become much less diverse and their value as wildlife habitat decreases. Even some of the plant and animal species normally associated with later successional stages will find the environment unsuitable.
Fire rejuvenates these ecosystems. It removes some of the insulating organic matter and results in a warming of the soil. Nutrients are added both by ash from the fire and increased decomposition rates. Vegetative re-growth quickly occurs and the cycle begins again.
An occasional fire may be critical for maintaining the viability of northern ecosystems, yet fire can also be a threat to human life and property. The realization that fire plays an essential ecological role, but also has a destructive potential in relation to human life and structures, can make the fire management decision process very difficult.
Fire Management Options in Alaska
Alaska fire protection options in the Alaska Interagency Fire Management Plan (PDF) provide for a full range of suppression responses from aggressive control and extinguishment to surveillance. Firefighter and public safety is of the highest priority for all options. [Note: In general, control, contain, and confine strategies relate with different protection options. Control strategies can be associated with critical and full protection, a contain or confine strategy can be associated with modified protection, and a confine (to a geographic area) strategy can be associated with limited protection.
Critical Protection - suppression action provided on a wildland fire that threatens human life, inhabited property, designated physical developments and structural resources such as those designated as National Historic Landmarks. The suppression objective is to provide complete protection to identified sites and control the fire at the smallest acreage reasonably possible. The allocation of suppression resources to fires threatening critical sites is given the highest priority.
Full Protection - suppression action provided on a wildland fire that threatens uninhabited private property, high-valued natural resource areas, and other high-valued areas such as identified cultural and historical sites. The suppression objective is to control the fire at the smallest acreage reasonably possible. The allocation of suppression resources to fires receiving the full protection option is second in priority only to fires threatening a critical protection area.
Modified Protection - suppression action provided on a wildland fire in areas where values to be protected do not justify the expense of full protection. The suppression objective is to reduce overall suppression costs without compromising protection of higher-valued adjacent resources. The allocation of suppression resources to fires receiving the modified protection option is of a lower priority than those in critical and full protection areas. A higher level of protection may be given during the peak burning periods of the fire season than early or late in the fire season.
Limited Protection - lowest level of suppression action provided on a wildland fire in areas where values to be protected do not justify the expense of a higher level of protection, and where opportunities can be provided for fire to help achieve land and resource protection objectives. The suppression objective is to minimize suppression costs without compromising protection of higher-valued adjacent resources. The allocation of suppression resources to fires receiving the limited protection option is of the lowest priority. Surveillance is an acceptable suppression response as long as higher valued adjacent resources are not threatened.