When you look at the remains of Lahaina, you see what could happen in Alaska

Look hard at those pictures of Lahaina. Look, and look again. Seek out videos as well. You see a wonderful, vibrant town that is no more. Completely gone. You see smoldering buildings, or what used to be buildings. You see ashes of memories that are now so totally toxic, it is doubtful Lahaina can ever be rebuilt or the land inhabited.

Friends and neighbors, you see what could happen right here in Alaska.

No, no. I will stop pussyfooting around. This issue is critical. When you look at the remains of Lahaina, you don’t see what could happen here in Alaska, you see what will happen here. What will happen, that is, if we don’t start paying lots more attention and actually take concrete steps to prevent Anchorage, Fairbanks, Wasilla, Eagle River — you name the Alaska place, from becoming a Lahaina. Urban or rural folks who live in the Bush, all communities burn just as easily with equally devastating results.

When we look at what happened in Lahaina, we see the intersection of our indisputable warming climate — we’ve doubled our growing season in Alaska during the past 100 years — and our refusal to take fire potential in our Alaskan communities more seriously. Too many Alaskans believe there is no such thing as global warming. And too many of us view the threat of fire as something that happens out in the boonies, far away from civilization. Lahaina dispels that notion.

I guess not enough of us remember the McHugh Creek blaze of 2016 which firefighters battled with for a few days. Anchorage and Eagle River were severely threatened. The world could have just as easily woken up to pics of smoldering Fourth Avenue, a wiped out Dimond Boulevard or a destroyed Eagle River business district. The smoke in the Anchorage Bowl would not be pleasant or safe. You get the idea. If you don’t, you are sweeping the issue under the rug.

[McHugh wildfire caused by unextinguished campfire, officials say]

So what to do? On a practical level, you should put down this column when you are finished and head to the state of Alaska’s Division of Forestry and Fire Protection website to learn about our state’s Firewise Communities program. Local, state, federal and private agencies and organizations have joined together to support and promote fire safety in the wildland/urban interface. Lahaina makes it clear more communities throughout Alaska must join this program.


If you don’t live in a small rural community, check out the Community Wildfire Protection Plans. There are programs for wildfire protection for Anchorage, the North Star Borough, the Copper River Basin, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough as well as for most of the communities in the Interior.

Many of these programs have been around for years. Yet most of us have little to no idea what they include. We leave the thinking and the planning to others. If Lahaina’s devastating fire showed us anything, it is that all of us need to get involved. This should be top priority. We need to step up communitywide education. We need to institute practice evacuation drills. And, as Yardeners, we need to clean up our own properties.

Most readers know there is a Firewise program for Alaska homeowners. How many of us have looked at it? Let me yell at you: YOU MUST CHECK IT OUT TODAY; RIGHT NOW. REALLY. It includes a self-assessment checklist which we all really, really, really should complete.

The bottom line is we can’t rely on Smokey Bear. It takes all of us to prepare for fires so that we all are protected.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar:

There is nothing more important this week than to start taking steps to make your home and yard firewise. Do review the checklist and get to work. It takes the whole community to protect against a Lahaina-type fire.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.