OK, so it’s not officially winter yet, but often this time of the year the Palmer area of Alaska (map) about 40 miles northeast of Anchorage has snow on the ground. Not this year.
On Thursday a truck pulling a trailer crashed and burned on the Palmer-Fishhook Road near the Glenn Highway. Strong winds gusting to 50 mph pushed the fire through 200 acres of brush and grass and into nearby neighborhoods.
Firefighters and state troopers evacuated homes in the area and city officials established an evacuation center at the Palmer Senior Center.
More than 16 fire units responded, including trucks from Palmer, Anchorage, Butte, and Chugiak.
No homes burned, but one shed was consumed along with some propane tanks stored inside, causing what one nearby resident described as explosions, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
The Alaska base of the Pioneer Hot Shots and the Glacier Gannette crew near Wasilla has been broken into twice in the last four years. After the 2009 ransacking of the base during which most of the crew members’ vehicles were damaged and government equipment was taken from the building, a person was convicted of that break-in and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
An article in The Frontiersman details an extremely vigorous investigation by Alaska State Troopers which ultimately led to the arrest of one person for the most recent break in. The Troopers found a security video from a nearby hospital that showed the break in, including a large U-Haul truck pulling up to the Department of Forestry Building. They also recovered a stolen GPS receiver that had tracked the thieves after the robbery, and after obtaining a search warrant found similar location tracking information on a stolen iPhone that was in possession of one of the suspects. The iPhone’s data showed the phone had been at the nine locations where a firefighter’s debit card had been used after the robbery.
For the second time in three years, thieves broke into the facility of crews working for the Alaska Division of Forestry near Wasilla. In 2009, the Pioneer Hot Shots and the Glacier Gannette crew returned from two-week fire assignments to discover that their base had been ransacked. Most of the 25 personal vehicles belonging to the firefighters had been broken into and damaged.
This time there was not as much damage, but state equipment was taken, as well as personal items belonging to the crews and two crew members’ Toyota pickup trucks.
Here is a video of an unmanned aerial vehicle being used to gather intelligence about a fire in Alaska.
Earlier this month in Alaska, a 40-pound Insitu Scan Eagle saw duty fighting wildfires after dense haze grounded conventional aircraft. The UAV is operated by the University of Alaska, which according to university officials is the first entity other than NASA or the Department of Homeland Security allowed to fly an unmanned aircraft beyond the line of sight in civil airspace.
The Scan Eagle — which is Boeing’s best-selling aircraft right now — was able to fly low over the fires through the thick smoke. Infrared cameras allowed people on the ground tracking the fires to find hotspots and monitor the fire lines.