Dimond Students Impacted by Destructive Fire Season

In the year 2019, Southcentral Alaska has been through one of the worst wildfires in living memory.

Beginning with the Swan Lake Fire near Kenai, fires from lightning strikes and human negligence have burned a swath of destruction across the state. In fact, as of the 26th of August, the Swan Lake fire had burned through over 150,000 acres.

Nick Jablonski, a senior and member of the Dimond Cross Country Running team, was on the last bus to go through the highway while returning from Kenai, and shared his experiences/

Jablonski said, “We were closer to the Soldotna area, so maybe 45 minutes to an hour outside of Soldotna on the way back. On the way there [the wildfire] was closer to Johnson Pass, maybe halfway between Johnson Pass and Soldotna, so it had moved down towards Soldotna.”

Jablonski’s experiences to and from Soldotna were remarkably different as wildfires progressed.

Jablonski said, “So when we were first heading over there, there was tons of little brown spots where we could just see the smoke rising up, and the fires, the biggest one we saw was probably about the size of a campfire.”

Another person on that bus, Dimond Chemistry teacher Jeff Keller, also described his experience. 

Keller said, “Going down we could see fire. We could see flames, but they were low flames.”

However, like Jablonski the journey back was a completely different experience for Keller.

Keller said, “The way back, there was no smoke for a long time,” until later on in the road, when Keller added, “There was one spot where fire was completely up a tree” and “We could feel the heat coming off the trees.”

The cross country running team was also quite fortunate to get back to Anchorage on time. As Keller said, “We got through right as the [highway] just closed.”

However, Keller added, ”I’d like to say we were fully cleared by the district beforehand”.

            The Cross Country team wasn’t the only group affected by wildfires moving across the State. 

Max Hickel, a Dimond senior with a cabin out near by Red Shirt Lake near the Deshka Landing wildfire in South Central Alaska,and was involved in saving his family’s property. 

             On the extent of the fire, Hickel said, “When I got there it was moving about a mile a night.”

             While near the fire, however, Hickel’s cabin was not directly in the way. Hickel’s cabin is on, “the southeast corner. The fire was coming to the northwest corner [of the lake].”

            Hickel added, “When I got there it was about four miles away. I was there for two days and when I left it was about half a mile off the lake.”

           However, due to changing conditions, Hickel’s cabin came on a stroke of luck.

           Hickel said, “Yep, it’s still there, the fire hasn’t moved since then, which this was two weeks ago so it hasn’t moved from where it is now.

          The main cause of fire problems, especially in wooded areas like Red Shirt Lake, according to Hickel is Spruce Bark Beetle kill. The 2018-2019 Bark Beetle season has been one of the worst on record, with millions of acres of dead trees.

           Many of the causes of this year’s horrible wildfires seasons are a mixture of other environmental factors.

           Jablonski said, “ I don’t think it really is preventable because right now we have so much old spruce beetle kill, so the fires are really necessary to clear those areas out so we can have the process of these forest fires. 

           “So by stopping the fires as much as that’s good, you’re protecting people’s homes, and you want to protect people’s homes and cabins obviously, by not allowing those fires to burn, you’re building more and more fuel up so when the fires burn like this year there twice or three times more powerful.”

All this extra fire made smoke conditions in Anchorage almost intolerable.

Jablonski said, “So I do cross country skiing and cross country running, and I focus on cross country skiing and I do that year round with the APU ski team. It’s affected us and every outdoor program a lot.

“For about a month we couldn’t do any hard training, some days no training at all, and for us the summer season is when we really make big gains, that’s when we train really hard.”

Jablonski added, “Because the smoke was so bad, and we were more aware of our bodies, what’s good and what’s bad for us, we actually try to pay attention to what we eat sometimes. And as kids, a lot of us are teens growing up, if we’re breathing in a lot of that air, we’ll be sucking in thousands of gallons of air sometimes, and that can seriously damage our lungs to the point where they can’t correctly grow.”