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Army: Artillery training sparked Alaska wildfire

Posted: October 22, 2013 - 12:01am

JUNEAU — The U.S. Army on Monday said a fire that threatened homes in Alaska earlier this year and burned on about 87,000 acres was caused by artillery training.

The U.S. Army Alaska, in a release, said training and range safety regulations were not strictly followed during an extreme fire warning on June 19, the day the fire was reported. Investigators found that a waiver request that allowed the training to continue went through an installation range officer rather than an operations chief. According to the Army, high-explosive and other types of ammunition also are restricted during an extreme fire warning, yet the artillery unit received approval to use high-explosive munitions on June 19.

Army investigators concluded the fire likely smoldered in branches and dead leaves until it flared up June 25.

Investigators recommended a number of changes that the Army said it would begin implementing immediately, including acquiring non-incendiary artillery rounds for firing when fire warning conditions are high. Other recommendations included giving final approval for waivers in extreme fire weather conditions to the U.S. Army Alaska deputy commanding officer at Fort Wainwright.

An Army spokesman said anyone who believes they suffered any damages from the fire can contact the Fort Wainwright law center claims office and any claims will be looked at to see if they meet specific criteria.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski pushed for a review of Army training procedures due to wildfire risk. In a statement Monday, she said the Army report “provides accountability by establishing responsibility for this unnecessary disaster, changes policies to minimize the chance it would happen again and begins rebuilding bridges between the U.S. Army Alaska and the surrounding communities who lost property or were threatened by this blaze.”

Murkowski said the Army also should “seriously consider” reimbursing the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for its expenses in fighting the fire.

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