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Record heat prompts Anchorage-area burn bans, fireworks restrictions

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: July 5, 2018
  • Published July 3, 2018

High heat, falling humidity and warnings of extreme fire danger triggered burn bans and restrictions on the sale and use of fireworks in Municipality of Anchorage and the Mat-Su ahead of Wednesday's July 4 celebrations.

The city of Anchorage banned open fires Tuesday, describing "very high-extreme fire danger." Barbecue grills and enclosed pellet grills are allowed, but portable outdoor fireplaces are not, the city fire department said in a statement. Fireworks, including sparklers, are illegal in Anchorage.

In Houston, the only place in the region where fireworks are legally sold, city officials took the unusual step Monday evening of temporarily suspending the sale and use of certain types of aerial fireworks. The fireworks stands stopped selling Roman candles and other fireworks that can be launched into the sky.

Any fireworks shows that have gotten the required permits will still take place, said Jodie Hettrick, Anchorage Fire Department chief. Firefighters will be on scene at both the Eagle River Lions Club fireworks show and at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage, she said.

Also Tuesday, the Alaska Division of Forestry issued a burn ban for all parts of the Mat-Su area, which includes Willow, Sutton, Caswell, West Lakes, Talkeetna, Greater Palmer, Butte and the Central Mat-Su. The suspension prohibits open debris-burning, burn barrels and lawn burning. Campfires with a diameter of less than 3 feet are still allowed but not advised, the agency said. Officials cited dry conditions.

Dry weather and falling humidity led to Houston's restrictions on firework sales, officials said.

"We'd rather be on the safe side of the curve," said Christian Hartley, fire chief for the city of Houston.

The only place in the Mat-Su Borough that fireworks are normally legal is on private land in Houston, unless a state burn ban is in effect.

It's a rite of summer, for some, to shop the fireworks stands that line one section of the Parks Highway. Houston is 18 miles northwest of Wasilla. But restrictions on sales have happened before. In 2015, during the Sockeye Fire, which ravaged the Willow area, the city of Houston suspended all fireworks sales, Hartley said.

At the same time, such restrictions aren't common, Hartley said. He said the state is not seeing a normal weather pattern right now.

As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, the temperature at Anchorage International Airport reached 80 degrees – the highest ever recorded for July 3, according to a tweet from the Anchorage region National Weather Service. The record of 79 degrees was set in 1979.

Hartley added that the fireworks stands always comply with requests to change or restrict inventory in response to fire danger.

The fireworks suspension applies to Roman candles, parachute and helicopter-style novelty fireworks, and Saturn batteries and similar products. The stands already don't stock missiles or rocket-style fireworks because of concerns about wildfires.

Robert Hall, the owner of Gorilla Fireworks, which operates a stand at Mile 52 of the Parks Highway, said his staff took those items off the shelves. He said he works with fire officials to reduce the risk of wildfires.

The recent suspension affects about half the inventory of fuses in the stand, Hall said. But he said there's still a wide selection of products available for Fourth of July revelers. The ban doesn't apply to sparklers, fountains and "cakes" where fireworks shoot straight up.

"There's plenty of stuff to have fun with," Hall said. "Just not the crazy stuff."

The aerial fireworks restrictions are in effect until further notice, according to a statement Tuesday from the city of Houston.

Laurel Andrews contributed to this report.

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