For the second time in three years, the headquarters of two Mat-Su wildfire firefighting crews has been ransacked by burglars.
Members of the Gannett Glacier crew showed up to their Valley headquarters early Monday morning to start two days of rest after fighting a fire near Fairbanks only to discover that the building had been broken into, said Norm McDonald, a spokesman for the Alaska Division of Forestry.
The headquarters is behind the Mat-Su Regional Hospital, near the University of Alaska Experimental Farm.
The Pioneer Peak Hotshots, another Mat-Su wildfire crew, also use the facility as a home base while they're out in the field, parking vehicles and storing gear. Each crew is made up of 20 Alaskans.
The thief or thieves appear to have stolen a combination of crew members' personal items from the parking lot and indoor lockers, including two crew members' Toyota pickup trucks, and state equipment, like $1,000 chainsaws and laptops, McDonald said.
In August 2009 one of the same hotshot crews returned from fighting a 12,000-acre blaze near Fairbanks to find the headquarters vandalized and looted of everything from Pilot Bread to pickup trucks.
This burglary is "similar but not to the extent of vandalism as the last one was in 2009," McDonald said. "This looks like a more typical break-in."
Alaska State Troopers investigators are trying to determine whether sensitive information might have been stored on the laptops, he said. Shotguns used for bear defense were locked up and left untouched.
Trooper spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said it wasn't yet clear exactly how the thieves got in to the building.
Some locks inside were broken with bolt cutters, she said.
Another task: figuring out exactly what exactly is missing. The Pioneer Peak hotshot crew is in Utah working a wildfire.
"Because the crew is in the Lower 48 fighting fires, it may take a little longer to get a list of items that were in the building," Ipsen said.
They've been told of the break-in, McDonald said.
Troopers aren't yet releasing the license plates of the stolen vehicles, citing the ongoing investigation.
But Christina Glover, the wife of a hotshot crew member, said in an e-mail that her family's 2002 Toyota Tundra, license plate number SHA176, was stolen.
"The fact that this is the second time this has occurred and the state refuses to provide funding to put up surveillance cameras is extremely upsetting," she wrote.
Glover said firefighters aren't reimbursed for personal belongings stolen or damaged.
McDonald said security at the facility had been improved since the 2009 break-in but declined to say what specific measures that included, citing the troopers ongoing investigation of the incident.
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