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Copyright vEsti24
Sep 01 2015
Talk of the Rock: Twin Creeks Fire PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 September 2015
Host Kayla Desroches talks about the fire in Chiniak with Jim Schwarber, Alaska Division of Forestry fire information officer, Aimée Kniaziowski, Kodiak emergency services director, and Kathryn Hollis-Buchanan, who's with the Kodiak office of the Red Cross. They update listeners on the Twin Creeks fire, examine the information they now have about the night it started, and think about how to prepare for future emergencies.

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Sep 01 2015
'Hazard Trees' Pose Danger as Chiniak Fire Mop Up Continues PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 September 2015
Jay Barrett/KMXT
The State Division of Forestry is declaring 20 percent of the Twin Creeks Fire in Chiniak is now contained.

Current fire activity is limited to smoldering in areas of heavier fuels and there was no change in the size of the fire overnight. Firefighters are securing the fire line closest to homes on its northern flank, and are making steady progress extending additional containment lines at least 100 feet inside the fire's perimeter. The goal is to mop up 300 feet inside all around the fire. 

A challenge for the firefighters securing the perimeter, according to fire information officer Jim Schwarber, is the presence of large fire-damaged trees. 

"When a fire burns through a timber stand it weakens the roots, and those trees will turn into what we call 'hazard trees.' But they will fall down very easily with not necessarily even a strong wind, and that's very dangerous,” Schwarber said. “Our fire crews that are securing that line, up to 300 feet wide around the perimeter, for their safety, some of these hazard trees we're cutting ourselves with the professional fellers we have out there."

There are now about 90 firefighters working the blaze, including the Hooper Bay, Upper Kalskag and the Yukon Type II Initial Attack crew, which arrived on the ferry Sunday night. A Type 3 Incident Management Team from the Alaska Division of Forestry is in place, as well.

The Twin Creeks Fire, known locally as the Chiniak Fire, started last Thursday evening, possibly caused by a downed powerline during a wind storm with gusts to 65 mph. Overnight and the next day strong winds quickly spread the fire through 5,000 acres of grass, timber and logging slash on Leisnoi, Inc. lands. The Chiniak Library, at least one home, and a cabin were destroyed by the fire. 
Aug 31 2015
Assembly and Council Jointly Sign Trawl Bycatch Management Letter PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 31 August 2015
Kayla Desroches/KMXT

A letter the Kodiak City Council recently approved to provide input on the Environmental Impact Statement for Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch management has also gained the stamp of approval from the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly.

At a special meeting last Thursday night, fisheries analyst Heather McCarty helped explain the document, which addresses concerns about overconsolidation and regionalization and suggests an idea for a community cooperative.

“All of this right now is just for analysis,” said McCarty. “The council process is so lengthy and they go through several iterations of analysis of every one of these elements of the potential program and what this letter is suggesting is just that these elements are considered for analysis.”

The assembly agreed to sign the letter jointly with the council.

At the work session following the meeting, the assembly also reviewed the standard evaluation procedures for the positions of borough manager and clerk and discussed updating the job descriptions for both. Assemblywoman Rebecca Skinner pointed out why that is a necessary step.

“One of the problems we saw is that what the manager and the clerk actually do is not fully captured in the job descriptions, so in some cases, they do more stuff that is not in the job description. In other cases, there’s things in the job description that everyone acknowledges they don’t actually do. And I almost have a bigger problem with that, because those are the things that fall through the cracks.”

The assembly decided that a smaller group of assemblymembers would review the evaluation criteria in the near future. The assembly also discussed the borough manager’s hiring authority and manager Bud Cassidy asked for the power to grant a higher salary than currently allowed.

“You’ve seen that we’ve not been able to hire anyone at a step C,” said Cassidy. “We’re dealing with a potential fire chief who is maybe even off the scale, so we know it’s not working. It’s a broken system being able to just hire to a step C. I will tell you to this day and age of just hiring employees, we’re not getting many applicants, and the ones that we are getting are not – and will not – accept a job at a C.”

Assemblyman Dan Rohrer suggested comparing the borough’s situation to other governing bodies.

“I guess my big question would be, is it a Kodiak issue, or is the city and the school district -  are they being able to find key positions and get them filled? Because they have some of those same – especially the city – have some very specially oriented jobs with their waste-water treatment plant and their water plant and things of that nature. I would be curious to see if they struggle with those same problems.”

The assembly decided the topic deserves further discussion. Its next regular meeting is scheduled for September 3 and its next work session for September 10.
Aug 31 2015
Homes Protected as Containment Continues on Chiniak Fire PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 31 August 2015
Jay Barrett/KMXT
The State Division of Forestry says homes on the north flank of the Twin Creeks Fire – the official name of the Chiniak blaze – have safe, defensible space around them, after four days of work by an ever-growing crew of firefighters.

They have completed a half mile of that northern fire line nearest the residences there in Chiniak, so that area, at this time, we're confident in saying those structures are no longer threatened by the fire,” said Jim Schwarber, a fire information officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry

Despite gusty winds returning on Sunday, Schwarber said they did not cause any new flare ups.

“Current weather has kept fire activity minimal compared to when things started Thursday night on this fire. The fire growth was minimal yesterday. We do have 10 percent containment of the 5,300-acre or so fire at this point in time,” Schwarber said. “We are working toward 100 percent containment. That is the objective on this fire. We're working to make sure this fire will no longer threaten any of the communities there in Kodiak Island.”

To help contain and mop up the numerous hotspots, Schwarber said more crews arrived all weekend.

“On the ferry last night we had hotshot crew came in. The Yukon Type II initial attack crew came in. That was an important resource we were competing with other fires in the Mat-Su for, and we're glad to get them here. I think they're the third or fourth 20-person crew to show up and we have a Type III management organization in place,” he said. “If we need additional resources we'll be asking for them, but right now, we're in position to make good steady progress on this fire.”

The forecast is calling for gusty, though steadily decreasing, winds through tonight, becoming light and variable tomorrow. Rain returns to the forecast late Wednesday.

With the state division of forestry on-scene and in control of the firefighting efforts, the joint city-borough emergency operations center has been shut down.

One family's home, not three as was reported Friday, was lost to the flames. There is a community effort online over the weekend to find the family a trailer to live in, as they were reportedly staying on their property in a tent. The community's small library was also destroyed.

Residents of Chiniak were allowed back to their property Friday afternoon, but Schwarber cautions residents and visitors that trees with roots weakened by the flames could fall down with little or no notice. 
Aug 31 2015
Cowboys, Reindeer Hot Dogs, and Alutiiq Songs at Kodiak Rodeo and State Fair PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 31 August 2015
roping_a_steer_photo_by_pam_foreman_kmxt.jpgParticipant roping a steer. Photo by Pam Foreman/KMXT

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

The Kodiak Rodeo and State Fair came to town this weekend. It continued from Saturday to Sunday with food, exhibits of award-winning produce, and of course, rodeo sports. You could see local cowboys and cowgirls doing everything from lassoing steers to riding horses that put up a fight. We spoke to a few of the participants.

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Chris Manis is from Kenai and says it’s his second year riding saddle bronc. He says he also rides bulls and he first got involved in rodeo events through an Alaska Veterans of Foreign Wars charity event.

“Once I rode my first bull, just meeting the people, the cowboys, the old timers, they’re just so willing to help and just good standing people that you want to be around, and the more and more I got around them, the more and more I learned, the better I got,” says Manis. “And it’s changed my life for the better.”

He’s one of a handful of cowboys who flew into Kodiak for the island’s rodeo. 22-year-old Chaz McDonald from Texas is one of the bull-fighters of the bunch. His job is to distract the bull.

“I make myself a bigger target that the rider, so that the rider can get up and get out clean and safe. If that means I gotta take a hit, then it’s part of the job, and I get the job done,” says McDonald.

And sometimes he does take a hit or two.

“I got my jaw knocked out of socket up in Fairbanks. I got behind a bull and got kicked in the face. I’ve had my jaw wired shut, broke my pelvis, popped both hips out of socket. I’ve had my fair share.”

He says he’s been bull-fighting for four years. And as with any dangerous activity, this one takes concentration.

“I step in there and everything kinda goes blank and I focus on what I need to do and you can talk to me all you want, but I’m probably not gonna answer ‘cause I’m not hearing you. I get real focused just like the riders do when they get on the back of ‘em, they’re in the zone, and when you’re in that mood, you’re not thinking about anything but what you’re supposed to be doing.”

Good support staff is important for the safety of all involved.

Wyatt Finley is a Kodiak resident who’s originally from Florida and is experienced with ranch work. He says he’s providing help with the stock and readying them for the stadium activities. And although he doesn’t ride bulls anymore because of the risk, he remembers how it felt and says riders have a popular calming technique. Chewing or smoking tobacco.

“Once you get off, you’re jittery, you can’t feel anything, so you putting in a nice chew or light up a smoke, it sounds dumb, but it works. It calms your nerves,” says Finley. “The nicotine in it, it settles you down. You sit down and chill out. It’s a lot of stress on your body getting on one of those bulls or those broncs.”

And when the rodeo ends for the day, you can walk outside and get a snack at the fair, see the prize-winning produce, or even go on a hay ride.

For lunch, you can stop at the handful of booths selling everything from reindeer hot dogs topped with chili and cheese to crepes chock full of nutella and bananas. Vendors at the farmer’s market side sell baked goods, like zucchini muffins, or creative fruit preserves like rhubarb and strawberry or hot pepper. Then inside a building on the fair grounds, you can walk around and view giant vegetables, go to the petting zoo, or listen to the roosters.
The Kodiak Alutiiq Dancers also performed, and group coordinator, Candace Branson, says they’ve just learned a new song which they would perform at the event.
“It’s … about when the Russians came and were taking men away from the villages and they were taking them to go hunting and they were taking them for war and scouting, and many times the men wouldn’t return and so when the boat left full of Native men, the women would cry on the beach, so this is the song they would sing about that experience.”

Despite the rain Saturday and the fire in Chiniak just a few nights before the event, people walk around outside and families fill the rodeo seats. It’s a Texan brand of entertainment - enjoyed Alaskan style.
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