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Warm weather brings winter wildfire potential to snow-sparse Palmer, Wasilla

Laurel Andrews
The north end of the Palmer Airport, free of snow. Jan 30 2014 Courtesy Alaska Department of Natural Resources

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources is warning residents in the Southcentral communities of Palmer and Wasilla of potential wildfire danger -- in January.

Warm weather has melted much of the snow in the Matanuska Valley, causing the potential for wildfires to start in the dead of winter, according to a press release sent out by DNR on Thursday. The release urges residents to “use caution with debris burning, campfires, and anything else that start a wildfire," especially during windy weather. No burn permits are required this time of year.

Winter fires have happened before in November and December and as early as March, said Norm McDonald, fire management officer. “A lot of the time it does catch us off guard,” he said. However, there have never been any wildfires in January or February. The unseasonably warm weather, coupled with the Matanuska Valley’s wind, has caused most of the snow in the Valley to melt. Now, temperatures are expected to drop, which will cause exposed vegetation to freeze and be sucked dry of any additional moisture, McDonald said. The potential for wildfires will remain until more snow falls.

DNR sent out Thursday’s press release mainly to warn contractors and residents clearing land to monitor any fires until they are out, McDonald said. “A lot of our large fields are snow-free,” McDonald said. So are many subdivisions.

Northwest of Palmer had an inch of snow on Thursday. Trunk Road in Wasilla, and Church Road both had just a trace of snow, according to National Weather Service Anchorage meteorologist Dave Strickland.

“With the wind and the rain that we had and the high temperatures, I would say 95 percent of the snow is gone in that area,” Strickland said.

In contrast, the community of Willow, roughly 26 miles north of Wasilla, had 19 inches of snow on Thursday.

Temperatures are expected to drop across Southcentral, but no precipitation is forecast, Strickland said. 

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com. Follow her on Twitter @Laurel_Andrews.

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