JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska Division of Forestry plans to suspend all burn permits in anticipation of the effects of the coronavirus on firefighting personnel and responses.
The agency announced Tuesday that permits will be suspended beginning May 1 in a preemptive effort to stop wildfires.
Officials did not provide a date when the burn ban is expected to be lifted.
Forestry officials believe Alaska will lack firefighters and equipment from the continental U.S. this year because of travel restrictions and quarantine requirements in response to the coronavirus.
Firefighters also could contract and spread COVID-19 when responding to wildfires, the agency said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
The suspension will help firefighting agencies mitigate “some of the significant challenges they’re likely to face this summer,” the agency said in a statement.
“Given the potential effects of COVID-19 on the upcoming fire season, Alaska’s wildland fire suppression agencies need the public’s help more than ever to keep firefighters and communities safe,” the agency said. “Alaskans must do everything possible to prevent wildland fires, limit the spread of COVID-19, and protect firefighters and the public.”
The use of burn barrels, burning debris piles and any other outdoor burning activity authorized under previously issued permits will be prohibited on all state, private and municipal lands.
The ban does not prevent “cooking, warming or signaling fires,” such as campfires, that are less than 3 feet (91 centimeters) in diameter with flame heights of no more than 2 feet (61 centimeters).
Commercially manufactured outdoor cooking and heating devices with built-in, open flame safety devices are also not banned.
Individuals or businesses violating the burn suspension may be issued a citation, the agency said.