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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 41 min 57 sec ago

Alaska News Nightly: June 19, 2015

Fri, 2015-06-19 17:55

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Progress Being Made To Contain Sockeye Fire

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The Sockeye fire near Willow is five percent contained.  Fire information officer Sarah Sarloos says the progress is made at the Northern portion of the perimeter.  But a recent windshift could change that.  Sarloos says the wind is from the South pushing North, with gusts of 20 mph, and that could test the gains made by firefighters.

Anatomy of the Wildland Firefight in Willow

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage
Officials lifted the evacuation order WHEN? over parts of Willow where threats from the Sockeye fire have lessened. As responders chip away at the blaze, KSKA’s Zachariah Hughes spoke with the front-line responders that have worked around the clock since it’s rapid spread last week.

Evacuation Notices Lifted Near Card Street Fire

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai
The Card Street Fire near Sterling is still officially tabbed at zero-percent contained, but most evacuation notices have been lifted. The Kenai Peninsula Borough made a local disaster declaration Thursday night to get help with relief efforts. As KDLL’s Shaylon Cochran reports, the fire continues to push away from homes and into the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Vets, Lawmakers Irate Over New VA ‘Choice’ Program

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington
When the scandal erupted last year over long wait lists at the Phoenix VA, Alaska was found to have quite short wait times.  The Alaska VA has for years been buying care for veterans outside the VA, at community and private-sector clinics, and especially through the Native health care system. Care Closer to Home, it’s called. That’s the model Congress chose when it passed the Veterans Choice Act last year. But as the new Choice program spreads across the country and takes hold in Alaska, vets and providers say it’s undoing parts of the Alaska-grown system that have worked well.

Dead Whales Near Kodiak Island Pose Mystery
Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak
At least 10 Fin whales are dead, having fallen victim to a mysterious affliction that seems to have killed them all near Kodiak Island. Kate Wynn, marine mammal specialist with the University of Alaska in Kodiak, said all the whales seemed to have met their fate at the same time and place.

AK: Citizen Scientists Deploy ‘Bat Mobiles’ In Southeast

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is stepping up its research on bats in Southeast. The nocturnal, bug eating animal is being threatened in the Lower 48 by a disease called White-Nose Syndrome.

49 Voices: ADine Fullerton of Willow

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage and Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Now it’s time for 49 voices. This week, we’re hearing from  Adine Fullerton, a Willow resident who evacuated her home on Monday because of the Sockeye fire. Adine left with three kids, five dogs, two cats, a hamster. She had to leave three tarantulas behind. When we talked to her she had just discovered her home was spared, along with the spiders. Adine Fullerton evacuated from her home in Willow because of the Sockeye fire.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Vets, Lawmakers Irate over New VA ‘Choice’ Program

Fri, 2015-06-19 17:23

When the scandal erupted last year over long wait lists at the Phoenix VA, Alaska was found to have quite short wait times.  The Alaska VA has for years been buying care for veterans outside the VA, at community and private-sector clinics, and especially through the Native health care system. The concept is dubbed “Care Closer to Home.” That’s the model Congress chose when it passed the Veterans Choice Act last year, aimed at solving the backlog for VA services in the Lower 48. But as the new Choice program spreads across the country and takes hold in Alaska, vets and providers say it’s undoing parts of the Alaska-grown system that have worked well.

 

Damita Duplantis is an Air Force vet and has back pain. She didn’t know about the Choice program until she got a call from the office of the neurosurgeon she hoped would operate on her back.

“And they called and told me that they had to cancel my appointment, because the VA was doing some kind of new funding thing and they were not accepting that type of funding that the VA was changing over to,” she says.

So Duplantis called the VA. She eventually learned that for an appointment outside the VA, now she has to go through something called the Veterans Choice program. In Alaska and 27 other states, Choice is administered by a company called TriWest. DuPlantis says she probably spent five hours on the phone, bouncing between TriWest and the VA.

“The thing that  frustrated me, is one, my appointment is being canceled, I’m in pain,” she said. “And two, they changed over to this new program and didn’t even tell the veterans what they were doing.”

Alaska’s congressional delegation has received dozens of calls from angry veterans.  Vets say clinics they’d been going to aren’t accepting Choice, and that appointments elsewhere are hard or impossible to get.  They tell of long hold times to reach TriWest call centers, emails that get no response and broken links on VA websites.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski was furious when she learned of the changes in late May.

“This is a threat to a collaborative effort that has been built over a period of years that has been very beneficial to our veterans,” she said earlier this month.

She fired off a four-alarm letter to the VA secretary. Congressman Don Young sent his own this week, and Sen. Dan Sullivan called for a congressional hearing. By late this week, the VA relented, in part: They’ve restored funds for non-Native veterans to get care at Native hospitals and clinics.

Andy Teuber, president of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, says last year, some 1400 Alaska vets used their VA benefits to get care at Native health facilities, and most of those vets were non-Natives. The VA reimbursement came to nearly $6 million, a small part of the $100 million or so the Alaska VA spends each year to purchase care outside the VA system.

Before the VA restored money for tribal providers this week, Teuber said he didn’t see the utility of TriWest, the contractor for the Choice program. By inserting a private company in the administration of VA care, Teuber says, you add a middleman that needs to make a profit.

“And it’s a wasteful layer of bureaucracy that effectively rations care of the veterans here in Alaska,” he said.

Hal Blair, deputy program manager at TriWest, says the company provides an important service, or the VA wouldn’t have asked the contractor to take on the Choice Program for much of the country, and on short notice.

“We had basically 30 days, with our VA partners, to go from a blank sheet of paper to having contact centers that could respond to the Choice requirements,” he said.

Blair says TriWest is working hard to sign up more providers in Alaska. Thanks to a special amendment to the Choice Act, they can now pay Alaska providers above the Medicare rate. Blair and VA officials say that should help.

Saving the government money is a big part of the mission at TriWest, Blair says.

“We like to think of ourselves as taxpayers first and businessmen second,” he says.

But contracts like this are expensive to administer, especially, he says, in their initial phases. A recent VA Inspector General’s report found that, for a related contract TriWest has with the VA, the government paid TriWest $8.4 million last year to buy $2.3 million worth of medical care for veterans.

Blair says he hadn’t seen the IG report, but he says TriWest’s value will become clear once more veterans sign up.

In Alaska, the new Choice program is baffling for some vets not well situated to cope with it. Jesse Gotschall, of Anchorage, was a truck driver in the Army. He served in both Iraq and Aghanistan.

“I have back problems, right? And I need help with it,” he says.

He says accupuncture and chiropractic care help him stand up straight so he can work. He also has PTSD, and trouble remembering things. It was hard enough for him to learn how to use the VA system before the rules changed. Now, he says, he feels like he’s trying to play chess on a Scrabble board.

“I honestly don’t know. And like, that’s part of the problem,” he said. “I try to figure this stuff out and I don’t know where to call, and you try to talk to someone and (you’re told) ‘you gotta do this, you gotta do that.’”

He’s beyond frustrated. He says sometimes he feels like giving up on the mortgage he’s trying to pay and leaving the country. One person who has helped him was his acupuncturist, Valerie DeLaune. He says she explained the VA programs to him, and also encouraged him to get treatment for his PTSD. Gottschall, though, will soon have to find treatment somewhere else. DeLaune was a TriWest provider, but says she dropped out due to a messy accounting dispute with the company.

The Alaska VA director says they’re planning a big campaign to explain the Choice program to veterans.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Evacuation Notices Lifted Near Card Street Fire

Fri, 2015-06-19 17:09

Update: Friday, June 19. 4:45 pm

The Card Street Fire near Sterling is still officially tabbed at zero-percent contained, but most evacuation notices have been lifted. The Kenai Peninsula Borough made a local disaster declaration Thursday night to get help with relief efforts. The fire continues to push away from homes and into the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Original Post: Friday, June 19. 10:00 am

Smoke clearing in the Card Street Fire near Sterling allowed Alaska Division of Forestry managers to get a better look at the areas burned. As of 11 a.m. Friday, the estimate is 7,578 acres, down from previous reports due to better mapping.

The blaze, sparked Monday, continues to move east into the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The area is uninhabited, but Refuge Fire Management Officer Kristi Bulock says the goal is to stop the fire, nonetheless, to keep it from threatening homes.

“This is an unwanted fire. This fire has the potential, if it crosses the Sterling Highway with the right conditions, it could actually come back in to the north side of Sterling and we absolutely do not want that to happen,” Bulock said. “The goal is to stop the fire. There’s just too much risk to communities.”

Evacuation notices were lifted Thursday in Sterling from the intersection of Feuding Lane and Kenai Keyes north to the Sterling Highway. Evacuation status remains in effects from Kenai Keyes south to the Kenai River.

Homer Electric Association reports that it will leave power off to 169 meters in the area, due to extensive damage during the fire.

The two fires started by lightening Tuesday in the Cooper Landing area saw little growth Thursday. The Juneau Creek Fire is estimates at 100 acres, and Stetson Creek at 400 acres. Crews are working to protect Forest Service cabins near Juneau Lake, and air support continues to limit the growth of both fires.

A Type II management team is taking command those fires Friday, with at least 40 additional firefighters expected.

The Card Street Fire continues to get new support, as well, including from Alaska villages. Hotshot crews from Grayling, Hooper Bay and Chevak arrived Thursday.

Categories: Alaska News

Progress Being Made to Contain Sockeye Fire

Fri, 2015-06-19 16:47

Update: Friday, June 19. 5:00 pm

The Sockeye Fire near Willow is five percent contained. Fire information officer Sarah Sarloos says the progress is made at the Northern portion of the perimeter. But a recent windshift could change that. Sarloos says the wind is from the South pushing North, with gusts of 20 mph, and that could test the gains made by firefighters.

Almost 600 firefighters remain on the job, for just such a possibility, and they will stay on the Sockeye Fire for at least two more days.

Update: Friday, June 19. 7:00 am.

Managers of the Sockeye Fire near Willow plan to begin letting residents back into the evacuation area Friday. At 10 this morning, the evacuation zone will be reduced to the fire perimeter line, controlled by nine security checkpoints. Homeowners who have lost homes will be let into the fire zone, starting at 11. The evacuation is set to end entirely on Saturday but security checkpoints will remain in place through the weekend. On the Parks Highway, traffic will be controlled between mileposts 71 and 78 until Monday. Authorities are  also reducing the flight restrictions this morning, starting at 8, to allow airplanes into Long Lake, Willow Lake and the Willow Airport. At least 26 homes were destroyed in the 7,000-acre blaze. Firefighters are still working in the area to put out hotspots.

Categories: Alaska News

Dead Whales Near Kodiak Island Pose Mystery

Fri, 2015-06-19 14:27

At least 10 Fin whales are dead, having fallen victim to a mysterious affliction that seems to have killed them all near Kodiak Island. Kate Wynn, marine mammal specialist with the University of Alaska in Kodiak, said all the whales seemed to have met their fate at the same time and place.

“The evidence suggests that all of these whales that we’ve found died at about the same time, which is like the third week of May, around the 20th, in a short period of time in a fairly localized area, and that’s about all we know right now,” Wynn said. “So it rules out a couple of things. And the fact that the carcass are intact, it rules out killer whale predation. But other than that, we’re at a loss.”

The area the whales were found were all south of Afognak Island, the second largest in the Kodiak Archipelago, just north of Kodiak Island.

All the dead whales spotted have been adults, except one calf and a couple of sub-adults, with a mix of genders. It’s the feeding that Wynn thinks may be the most likely culprit in their death.

“It suggests that there’s something, a feeding group of fin whales ran into a toxin, or bio-toxin, human caused, induced, toxin, something that they were exposed to together in a short period of time,” Wynn said.

“So we’re looking at water temperature, harmful algae bloom possibilities. But there’s a lot of things that don’t add up with that theory. Mainly that we don’t find the prey species dead on the beach or other species that would be eating the same prey, dying.”

Fin whales, the second-largest species after Blue Whales, are filter-feeders, meaning they strain tiny sea life in its baleen to eat. They do not eat larger seafood such as salmon or halibut.

Wynn says that a colleague at the Marine Advisory Program in Kodiak is checking for evidence of paralytic shellfish poisoning.

Blubber and muscle samples, and an eyeball, recovered from one whale has been sent for laboratory examination, and Wynn says results might be available next week.

Categories: Alaska News

Running Alaska’s Mount Marathon Race

Fri, 2015-06-19 12:00

Holly Brooks hugs fellow competitor Charlotte Edmondson before the 2014 Mount Marathon race. (Photo by Alexandra Guitierrez, APRN – Seward)

The Mount Marathon race in Seward is the Super Bowl of Alaskan sports. Each July 4th, racers charge up Mount Marathon – a climb of more than 3,000 feet, and then descend in a matter of minutes in a burst of speed that can look like a controlled fall. A new documentary tells the story of the race through the perspective of several Mount Marathon legends.

HOST: Annie Feidt

GUESTS:

  • Max Romey, filmmaker
  • Holly Brooks, two-time Mount Marathon champion
  • Najeeby Quinn, elite Mount Marathon racer
  • Callers statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, June 16, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

mentary tells the story of the race through the perspective of several Mount Marathon legends.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Elodea Eradication Plan Would Employ Herbicide

Fri, 2015-06-19 11:18

Elodea. (Photo from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

A herbicide is proposed to eradicate an invasive weed that’s infested some Fairbanks area waters. The chemical application would target Elodea, a prolific aquatic weed known to choke out native plants and fish, and inhibit navigation.

Elodea was first documented in Alaska in 2010, in the Chena Slough in North Pole. It was subsequently tracked as far back as 1982 in Cordova’s Eyak Lake, and identified at numerous other Alaska sites in the Cordova, Fairbanks, Kenai and Anchorage areas. Fairbanks-based U.S. Forest Service Invasive Plants program manager Trish Wurtz says an herbicide called fluoridone has proven effective killing off Elodea in the lower 48 and on the Kenai.

“You can put a very low, small concentration of fluoridone in the water and it will kill the elodea, but either not harm or only slightly damage other aquatic plants,” Wurtz said. “And they rebound relatively quickly.”

Wurtz says a local group of agencies and is proposing to apply fluoridone to Chena Slough, and Chena Lake, a plan they’re taking public feedback on. The slough and lake and a portion of the Chena River are among 20 known Alaska Elodea infestations sites, including most recently Anchorage’s Lake Hood, the state’s biggest float plane base, and a means of carrying the invasive to waters all over Alaska.

Herbicide application may be the quickest way to halt Elodea. Wurtz says the decision to look at in the Fairbanks area follows an unsuccessful effort to use a suction dredge to vacuum up the plant.

“That didn’t work very well; it was extremely time consuming and labor intensive,” Wurtz said. “And after a couple hundred hours of suction dredging, they were only able to remove the elodea from about half an acre of Chena Slough.”

Wurtz acknowledges transitioning from a mechanical to a chemical approach raises the issue of side effects.

“The whole toxicology of chemicals in water, it’s a very complex issue, but this chemical has been used for years, and its approved by the EPA actually for use at 10 times the level that they’re using it on the Kenai,” Wurtz said. “And even if you used it at up to 10 times the amount, there’s no restrictions for people on drinking the water or swimming in the water. Even on the same day it’s applied.”

Elodea is believed to have made its way to Alaska by several avenues, including air craft floats boats, and other water sports gear and aquariums containing the plant that are inadvertently dumped into local waters.

Categories: Alaska News

Breaking the link between childhood trauma and suicide

Fri, 2015-06-19 11:05

The first day of the conference, “Trauma and Suicide: Breaking the Link,” attracted about 185 participants, mostly from Juneau. All the sessions take place at Centennial Hall and continue into Friday. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Close to 200 people in Juneau joined forces Thursday to break the link between childhood trauma and suicide. They’re taking part in a two day suicide prevention conference. Day one focused on establishing the trauma-suicide link.

After analyzing data from state surveys on trauma and risky behaviors, Alice Rarig says she was taken aback.

“It shocked me to see that one in five young people think about suicide and that more than half of them have major problems with sadness or feeling alone or not having adults in their lives to talk to,” she says.

Rarig is a retired state health planner and a member of the Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition. She says she’s also troubled by the amount of youth who’ve experienced bullying, violence, sexual abuse and other traumatic experiences.

The coalition identified childhood trauma to be a leading factor contributing to suicide in Juneau.

Patrick Sidmore is a planner with the state Department of Health and Social Services. He helped coordinate the Adverse Childhood Experiences study in Alaska. For the past 20 years, the national study has shown that traumatic experiences, like abuse, neglect or growing up with substance abuse, may lead to serious health problems into adulthood.

“In the original study, they looked at suicide attempts and adverse childhood experiences and it had the strongest correlation of any of the items they looked at,” Sidmore says. “For example, 80 percent of suicide attempts can be tied back to adverse childhood experiences. This is the rate similar to lung cancer and cigarette smoking.”

Sidmore says many scientists think adverse childhood experiences actually cause suicide. He says addressing trauma will help prevent suicide.

Shirley Pittz says one of the ways this can be done is examining the quality of relationships for kids. Pittz is an early childhood expert with the state’s Office of Children’s Services.

“What are we doing to support families so that they can have good nurturing relationships with kids? What kind of messages does our community give about the value of children and how we’re supporting kids? All you need is somebody who cares about you and that can get you through a lot, so how can we make sure that every kid has that?” Pittz asks.

The rate of suicide in Juneau is similar to the state’s. There were six suicides in Juneau in 2013, similar numbers in prior years. It peaked in 2007 with nine. The Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition formed the following year.

Walter Majoros is the coalition’s chair. He’s also the executive director of Juneau Youth Services. He says the number of suicides may have gone down, but “there are a lot of deaths that have occurred in recent years, particularly with people in their 20s, that have been drug overdoses, so we have to look beyond the real numbers to what’s actually happening,” Majoros says. “And so in that sense there are still a lot of deaths that are occurring within our community that maybe aren’t being labeled as suicide, but if you look a little deeper, I think they really are.”

Coalition member Alice Rarig adds the numbers don’t account for suicide attempts or suicidal plans and thoughts.

She says preventing suicide means also preventing other bad things

“We’ll probably reduce the fighting, the bullying, the unsafe sex, the self-harm through alcohol use and substances,” Rarig says.

On day two of the conference, participants will focus on putting their knowledge to work on a community level.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Protesters Demonstrate Against Shell’s Arctic Drilling Plans

Fri, 2015-06-19 10:59

(Alaska Public Media photo)

Two protests against Shell’s plans for drilling in the Arctic this summer took place Thursday in Alaska.

The first was in Juneau during the early afternoon and later in the day a second protest was organized on a street corner in Anchorage.

Standing across the street from a Shell gas station on Northern Lights Boulevard, Gwit’chin Athasbascan Faith Gemmill of Arctic Village said she was there to support Inupiaq people and their subsistence rights.

“Their whaling way of life is what’s at stake,” Gemmill said. “If Shell drills in the Chukchi sea, it could be potential disaster for the people there.”

Xavier Mason represents the youth council for the Anchorage chapter of the NAACP. He said the permission given to Shell to drill in the arctic is a pivotal moment in Alaska’s history and shouldn’t be allowed.

“It’s not just Shell, but anyone, because look at the Gulf spill, that was crazy and if you do that here in Alaska where it’s more remote and a greater diversity of fish and whales and stuff like that and polar bears,” he said.

Mason said the risk of spills is too high.

Categories: Alaska News

Aleutian Sockeye Finds a Market With Full Circle Farms

Fri, 2015-06-19 10:53

Sockeye on ice. (Credit Mike Mason/KDLG)

Aleutian sockeye has found a new niche market through the organic food delivery company Full Circle Farms.

Full Circle’s main business is sending out boxes of organic fruits and vegetables to its customers in California and the Pacific Northwest.

In recent years they’ve added a selection of other groceries. And now, for $9.35 per 6-8 oz fillet, Full Circle subscribers can get Aleutian sockeye salmon in their weekly box.

‘Aleutia’ is a non-profit, community-based brand of sockeye harvested by 30-some fishermen around the eastern Aleutians and western Alaska peninsula.

It was started back in 2001 by a group of fishing families hoping to get better prices.

One of those fishermen, Aleutia’s Vice President Danny Cumberlidge, says the organization has always emphasized quality rather than quantity.

“We were some of the first to start with slush ice… we started the live bleeding, the slush ice, any capacity under 1000 pounds,” Cumberlidge said.

Cumberlidge says icing the fish and treating each one with care makes for a higher-quality product.

And his market seems to agree. Last year Aleutia reached out to Full Circle Farms’s product manager Debra Dubief. She says gets phone calls from people wanting to sell their products all the time.

“After speaking with people from Aleutia, I loved their story but I said, the thing is, it has to be an amazing product, like all of our products have to be,” Dubief said. “She sent me a few samples, we all tasted it, it was wonderful, taken care of pristinely, some of the best frozen salmon I’ve ever had.”

So the Aleutia brand had the quality piece figured out.

Its second major selling point for Full Circle was convenience. Dubief says Aleutia salmon arrives frozen, so customers don’t have to cook it up that same night. And it comes in individual portion sizes.

“Aleutia does a really good job of portioning to our size needs. And that’s something that’s unique to FCF… we can’t sell fish by the pound, we need to sell it by the unit. So they cut everything to our specifications, wrap it perfectly, it’s a beautiful product,” Dubief said.

And when a customer unwraps that fillet, Full Circle hopes they’ll think about the story behind it.

“We aren’t making a lot of money on this, we’re giving it back to the community,” Cumberlidge said. “That’s our structure. We are not a cannery. We’re a niche market, high-quality organization. If we get a little better price, we give that back to our fishermen.”

Full Circle says their customers want to know that their food is good, not only for their health, but good for the land and sea and the people who produce it.

And that, says Cumberlidge, lines up with Aleutia’s mission.

“The biggest thing I think it does is it puts more pride back into the community and the fisherman,” Cumberlidge said. “When I started fishing at eight years old you were proud to be a fisherman. You know, we’re instilling more of that pride back into the young people that, hey, I do a good thing, I feed the world.”

Both Full Circle and Aleutia are betting that what customers really want alongside their organic lettuce is this story – the story of sustainable, impeccable salmon that supports a community and a way of life.

Categories: Alaska News

After A Long Wait, Going Back Could Be Tough

Fri, 2015-06-19 10:35

What goes through a man’s head when he’s told he has twenty minutes to collect his valuables and get out ? What pieces of his life will he choose?

One Willow homeowner  says it may be too painful to go home again.

John Basler and family have lived in Willow almost twenty years in a hand built house, ringed by a few outbuildings.  Ironically, last Sunday morning, they snapped photos of a new shed completed only the day before, then lingered to take shots of the whole place under a blue, cloudless sky. Not long after, they noted smoke rising northward.

“The wind was blowing South, and the fire was North of us by a couple of miles, and we knew right there that we might be in danger.”

The plumes of smoke got larger….. and closer. Basler set a sprinkler on the roof, as burning  gobs of spruce cone began to hit the roof.

“They’re like bombs. They go up (he snaps his fingers ) immediately. They are just fire bombs. And we can hear all these little..something.. hitting all the vehicles, all the outbuildings everything. We can hear it. And you can feel it on your skin.”

Basler’s was grabbing stuff at random, when a Trooper came by to warn of a possible evacuation. Twenty minutes later, the Trooper was back..’ get out NOW,’ he said

“I never realized that something like that.. it’s tremendous.. your thoughts are rampaging. You are more concentrating on getting any animals out, any people out. The rush of that is horrible, it’s horrible. Because your mind is just so scattered, you don’t know what to do. You grab what you can. As quick as you can, and you get out. Finally, when you get out and can’t get back in, you realize you should have grabbed this, I should have grabbed that. I wish I could have grabbed that. ”

He left behind his two Harley-Davidson’s, and a classic ’51 Ford truck ..there was no time to load them, not enough drivers at hand.

The fire, racing a mile a minute, pushed them first to Willow Creek. But a second evacuation from there late Sunday night drove them further South to White’s Crossing where they spent a sleepless night. On Monday, Basler returned to his property.

“The house was still standing. I was able to get into the house, grab my insurance papers, everything that I needed for all my vehicles, the house, everything. So I grabbed all my insurance papers, then a fire truck came along.. the firemen said.. ‘get out, it reflared back up’.”

Before and after photos tell the tale. The house is now ringed by ashes, charred debris and melted pieces of metal. Surprisingly, a green tree and a few bushes are scattered through the black. Remarkably, the greenhouse full of tomato plants stood intact. Basler says he thinks fire retardant saved the house.

Right now he’s staying with relatives in Anchorage. He says he’s waiting to get back into the Willow neighborhood, but only to get a few small items he can salvage. He says he’s done with Alaska, and won’t rebuild

“Because I built my house from the ground up. I don’t want to go back there. There’s a lot of memories that are there.. and they are gone. They’re all gone. Whether the house stands or not, I don’t care. They’re all gone. I have no reason to stay anymore. ”

It’s the years of living there that’s lost, he says.. the moments that make a family.  The emotional loss can never be replaced.

“There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and special little notes in the walls that I wrote for my boys and my mom and dad. And all that stuff, and it’s all gone. Whether the house is there or not. I lost my livelihood out there. Because they kept the house, but all my work tools, everything, all my hand tools, everything that I enjoy doing, was demolished in the fire. I wish they would have just let the house go, too. I really do.”

That Willow neighborhood was our world, he says. But he’ll rebuild elsewhere. Probably Oregon. And he and his wife already have a plan .

“It’s a lot of earache to get on the phone, and talk to your insurance companies and talk to these people and try to figure out what’s going on. It just takes time. I’m finding that it’s hard, and I cry like a little baby over this at times, but, you know what, I’m strong and my wife and I are getting through this. And we are gathering a plan. I have a notebook of all the things that are going to be listed, and everything that I lost in the fire. And we have a plan that is slowly coming together. And that’s all it takes. Keep focused on your plan, and it will happen. ”

Sockeye fire evacuees at the Red Cross Houston shelter are anxious to get back to their property. Red Cross spokeswoman Beth Bennett says some of them may not be prepared for the emotional impact of what they find. The agency is providing grief counseling help at the shelter.

Categories: Alaska News

Card Street Fire estimated at 7,578 acres

Fri, 2015-06-19 10:02

Smoke clearing in the Card Street Fire near Sterling allowed Alaska Division of Forestry managers to get a better look at the areas burned. They’re now estimating the fire at 7,578 acres, down from previous reports.

The blaze, sparked Monday, continues to move east into the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The area is uninhabited, but Refuge Fire Management Officer Kristi Bulock says the goal is to stop the fire, nonetheless, to keep it from threatening homes.

“This is an unwanted fire. This fire has the potential, if it crosses the Sterling Highway with the right conditions, it could actually come back in to the north side of Sterling and we absolutely do not want that to happen,” Bulock said. “The goal is to stop the fire. There’s just too much risk to communities.”

Evacuation notices were lifted Thursday in Sterling from the intersection of Feuding Lane and Kenai Keyes north to the Sterling Highway. Evacuation status remains in effects from Kenai Keyes south to the Kenai River.

Homer Electric Association reports that it will leave power off to 169 meters in the area, due to extensive damage during the fire.

The two fires started by lightening Tuesday in the Cooper Landing area saw little growth Thursday. The Juneau Creek Fire is estimates at 100 acres, and Stetson Creek at 400 acres. Crews are working to protect Forest Service cabins near Juneau Lake, and air support continues to limit the growth of both fires.

A Type II management team is taking command those fires Friday, with at least 40 additional firefighters expected.

The Card Street Fire continues to get new support, as well, including from Alaska villages. Hotshot crews from Grayling, Hooper Bay and Chevak arrived Thursday.

Categories: Alaska News

Fighting Alaska’s wildfires

Fri, 2015-06-19 08:00

Fires ripped through Southcentral Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula this week, destroying structures and triggering evacuations. As the fires calm down, people are starting to head home. This week on Alaska Edition we’ll talk about fighting fires and taking the next steps toward recovery.

HOST: Anne Hillman

GUESTS:

  • John See, forester and fire fighter, Municipality of Anchorage
  • Jeremy Zidek, spokesperson, state’s Division of Homeland Security

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, June 19 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, June 20 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, June 19 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, June 20 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Protesters Rally Against Shell’s Arctic Plans

Thu, 2015-06-18 18:14

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A crowd of about 40 gathered in the drizzling rain outside Juneau’s federal building this afternoon to protest Royal Dutch Shell’s oil rig, the Polar Pioneer. The vessel left Seattle on Monday after weeks of public outcry.

Alaska Climate Action Network organizer Elaine Schroder is passing out a rainbow of signs to people arriving at the rally. Handwritten slogans in splashes of yellow and blue.

“Let’s take a look at them,” she says. “This says ‘Alaska moms for a renewable future: there is no creature more dangerous than a mother bear protecting her cubs’ so that’s one of our more adorable signs. ”

Shell’s massive oil rig, the Polar Pioneer, is now sailing to the Chukchi Sea. In May, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management gave conditional approval to the company to start exploratory drilling this summer off Alaska’s Arctic coast.

“And we’re saying ‘no’ to Shell. You’ve got to keep the oil in the ground. What we’re talking about here is extreme extractions.”

Concerns from environmental groups include the likelihood of a spill, the impact on coastal Native communities and climate change.

“We want renewable energy sources and that’s what our money should be going for.”

In a statement, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management says the Polar Pioneer will meet “rigorous safety standards” during its exploration.

Some of the signs at the rally are taped to kayak paddles, a nod to the kayaktivists in Seattle. Lorena Guillen and her husband are Seattleites on vacation.

“We’re trying to see the glaciers before they disappear,” Guillen said.

They were active in the protests down south but weren’t expecting to spend their trip this way. Then they saw a flyer in a Heritage Coffee shop.

“It was really nice to see the sign in the coffee shop because] it was like ‘yes,’ this is exactly the fight we need to continue and not give up,” Guillen said.

Mid-rally, a car swerves into a handicapped spot. The vehicle has a large wood and paper structure strapped to the top. Elaine Schroeder explains.

“Right now what just drove by was a replica of the Polar Pioneer. Only we call it the “Polar Profiteer” rather than the Polar Pioneer,” Schroder said.

“Polar Profiteer” will make another appearance at the Fourth of July parade, Schroder said. But the group hopes the Polar Pioneer doesn’t arrive to its next destination.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Fishermen In the Dark About King Limits

Thu, 2015-06-18 18:12

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There are less than two weeks to go before the traditional start of the summer king salmon trolling season, on July 1st — but fishermen in Southeast don’t know yet how many kings they’ll be allowed to catch. Representatives on the Pacific Salmon Commission are deadlocked — they can’t agree how many king salmon are out there. And that has put this year’s king salmon season in jeopardy.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 18, 2015

Thu, 2015-06-18 18:09

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Small Part of Card Street Fire Under Control

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai
A very small portion of the Card Street Fire on the Kenai Peninsula is under control, and the evacuation notice for a couple neighborhoods has been lifted. The fires continue to move east, into the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and away from residential areas.

Sockeye Fire Starting to “Cooperate”

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage
Officials say the Sockeye fire burning near Willow is beginning to “cooperate.” Incident Commander Tom Kurth says the total acreage burning is just over 7,000 [7,066], a slight drop from yesterday, although that’s in part due to better mapping of the fire’s perimeter. The full number of fire fighters on scene is approaching 600.

Healy Lake Fire Doubles In Size

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Several wildfires are burning in the interior, including a growing blaze east of Delta Junction. Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry says the Healy Lake fire made a major push west toward Delta beginning late Wednesday night and increased in size from 2,000 to up to 6,000 acres.

Juneau Protesters Rally Against Shell’s Arctic Plans

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau
A crowd of about 40 gathered in the drizzling rain outside Juneau’s federal building this afternoon to protest Royal Dutch Shell’s oil rig, the Polar Pioneer. The vessel left Seattle on Monday after weeks of public outcry.

Six Cruise Ships Release Treated Sewage into Harbors

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Did you know some cruise ships are allowed to discharge wastewater while anchored or tied up in port? State officials and industry representatives say it’s safe. But critics fear it’s fouling local harbors.

Fishermen In the Dark About King Limits

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

There are less than two weeks to go before the traditional start of the summer king salmon trolling season, on July 1st  — but fishermen in Southeast don’t know yet how many kings they’ll be allowed to catch. Representatives on the Pacific Salmon Commission are deadlocked — they can’t agree how many king salmon are out there. And that has put this year’s king salmon season in jeopardy.

Mat-Su Residents To Learn About Their Homes in Wake of Sockeye

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The Mat-Su Borough government planned to meet individually with residents who evacuated the Sockeye fire Thursday to tell them if their homes are still standing. Some already know.

Kids Gather in Tanana to Learn Some Basketball and Life Skills

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Kids from several villages and Fairbanks are gathered in the Yukon village community of Tanana this weekend for a basketball camp that seeks to do more than just help young people brush up on their bucket skills.

Categories: Alaska News

Kids Gather in Tanana to Learn Some Basketball and Life Skills

Thu, 2015-06-18 18:00

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Kids from several villages and Fairbanks are gathered in the Yukon river community of Tanana this weekend for a basketball camp that seeks to do more than just help young people brush up on their bucket skills.

The training is being conducted by Damen Bell Holter, a young man who grew up in Hydaburg, played basketball in Ketchikan and knows well the struggles some kids in rural Alaska experience. Cynthia Erickson got the event lined up. She lives in the Athabascan community of Tanana and works with young people struggling with abuse and addiction in their families. She says 40 kids are attending from Manley, Fairbanks, Anvik, Tanana and other communities.

“So it’s just an inspiring opportunity for all these kids and everything they’ve heard about Damen and his camps is just really positive,” Erickson said.

Erickson says she was pleased with the high turn out which is more than the entire student body of the Tanana school. She says Damen heard of the presentation that young people from Tanana made to the AFN convention in Anchorage last year. They spoke out about the pain of dysfunction in their families and communities and he reached out to Erickson, wanting to help.

Holter played for the Celtics and now plays for a team in Turkey. He started sponsoring the camps to help kids know they can aspire to better outcomes for their lives. Erickson says during the weekend they’ll hand out pledge cards that ask kids to honor and protect themselves and others and stand together to stop suicide.

“On the back of it, it has ‘ need help keeping your pledge, contact the care line and then it has the 800 number on it, so we hand that out at all of the things that the kids go to,” Erickson said. “And we tell em, put your name on there, take that pledge and if you have trouble there’s a number on there to call.”

Erickson formed a 4H group to start getting kids into positive activities but she said some are dealing with such trauma, cutting themselves or contemplating suicide, that she instead formed a non profit called, My Grandma’s House.

She says the idea that it’s bad luck to talk about suicide is wrong. Erickson says it must be discussed and that won’t promote more self harm but she prepares the young people she works with for the prospect of future suicides.

“It’s not because we’ve started talking about it. We’re saving…if we lose one, that’s a day we’ll have to deal with but we really are changing the way things have been.”

She says there hasn’t been a suicide in Tanana in five years, but she’s dealt with more than that number in her own life and the Trooper shootings in Tanana last year took a heavy emotional toll on the community. Erickson says she tells the kids, it took decades of dysfunction to get to this point and it will take time to turn it around, but she stresses it’s not difficult to help kids feel better about themselves. It doesn’t take money, it takes time.

“We’ll be picking berries or cutting moose meat or jarring fish, they’re just tickled to do anything and they feel so good, they bring their jam home or we do raffles and they do a little jam basket and they just enjoy the time and the learning and that’s the whole missing link is, the key to this is family and time,” she said.

Erickson says the Damen Bell Holter’s basketball camp will work with elementary kids in the mornings and high school kids in the afternoons through the weekend. In the evenings, a community picnic, swimming, tubing and a spaghetti feed are also planned.

Categories: Alaska News

Small Part of Card Street Fire Under Control

Thu, 2015-06-18 17:30

A very small portion of the Card Street Fire on the Kenai Peninsula is under control, and the evacuation notice for a couple neighborhoods has been lifted. The fires continue to move east, into the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and away from residential areas.

“Everyday it’s getting more and more contained,” said Terry Anderson  one of the public information officers for the
Division of Forestry. He’s been giving regular updates over lunch at the Sterling Community Center and Thursday there was finally some good news. In some of the neighborhoods that were evacuated, crews are now working on the smaller spot fires, and people can finally get back to their homes, at least for now.

“There’s a whole division of guys that work on that all day long and they grid it. They walk back and forth and back and forth and yeah, you can miss it, but it’s rare because that’s what they’re doing on a daily basis,” he said.

In all, more than 250 firefighters are working the Card Street Fire. It’s the number one priority fire in the country, at least at the moment. Crews caught a break Wednesday night as the wind pushed the now 9,000 acre fire into the wilderness of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. But Refuge Fire Management Officer Kristi Bulock says this is not a situation where they
want to simply let the fire burn itself out.

“This is an unwanted fire,” Bulock said. “This fire has the potential, if it crosses the Sterling Highway with the right conditions, it could actually come back in to the north side of Sterling and we absolutely do not want that to happen. The goal is to stop the fire. There’s just too much risk to communities.”

Over in Cooper Landing, residents were also breathing a little easier, but still keeping a sharp eye the 300 acre Juneau Lake Fire and the closer, 100-acre Stetson Creek Fire.

Dan Michels is the General Manager at the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge in Cooper Landing. Besides worrying about his own house, he’s got nearly 200 guests who probably didn’t see this in any travel brochures.

*Michels: “All the guests coming in, it’s like ‘keep your tooth brush handy and your medication and what do you do?” (0:10)*

He says they have their own plan to get people out safely, but those fire sare also being kept more or less in check. They’re both the result of lightning strikes earlier in the week.

“And then all of a sudden, crrrrack. And that was that. That started it. They knew which one it was.”

A Type-2 management team is on site for those fires and will take over operations tomorrow. At least 40 additional fire fighters are also expected. The Stetson Creek fire has been relying mostly on air support, as its position on a hillside makes fighting from the ground much more difficult. There’s no cost estimate on those fires, but the Card Street
Fire is now running at more than $160,000 a day, totaling just over a $1 million.

Categories: Alaska News

Landless Natives Bill Gets First Hearing Before Congress

Thu, 2015-06-18 15:11

U.S. Rep. Don Young poses in his office with Sealaska board member Richard Rinehart, left, and landless spokesman Leo Barlow, right. Barlow and Rinehart were lobbying this week for Young’s landless Natives legislation. (Photo Courtesy Rep. Don Young’s office.)

A bill creating corporations for Native residents of five “landless” Southeast Alaska communities had its first hearing in Congress today.

Haines, Petersburg, Wrangell, Ketchikan and Tenakee were left out of 1971’s Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. That bill gave land, money and corporate status to those in many other Alaska communities.

Wrangell’s Leo Barlow represented landless residents at the hearing, before the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.

“Those of us who enrolled to these five communities during the ANCSA process did so because they are our traditional homelands and places of origin. Our families and clans originated in these communities and have lived here for hundreds if not thousands of years,” Barlow said.

He said about 3,500 Tlingits and Haidas were affected. They still became shareholders of the Sealaska regional Native corporation.

Congressman Don Young, who authored the legislation, chaired the committee hearing. Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced asimilar bill earlier this year. Sealaska is also lobbying for its passage.

A report by the University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research found no clear reason why the five communities were excluded, other than Congressional intent.

Federal officials continue to oppose inclusion, saying it would break precedent and allow others to follow suit.

At the hearing, Young said the timber industry lobbied Congress before ANCSA passed because it wanted to keep more of the Tongass National Forest available for logging.

“The communities involved here had large lumbering, timbering operations. And there was effort put into this Congress at that time not to recognize them because it might have affected the long-term leases for that timber,” Young said.

Similar legislation has been introduced more than a half-dozen times.

Supporters have suggested it would only get serious consideration after a bill turning Tongass timberlands over to Sealaska passed.

That happened last year.

Categories: Alaska News

Zip Tie Polar Bears Adorn The Place of the Future-Ancient

Thu, 2015-06-18 14:45

Allison Warden models the beginnings of her whaling suit. (Photo by: Anne Hillman-KSKA)

How do you connect with the past and the future at the same time? For one artist, the start is through polar bear hides made of zip ties and an ancient Inupiaq whaling suit made of flexible plastic mesh. Allison Warden speaks about her newest project, The Place of the Future-Ancient.

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Sitting in the Alaska Gallery at the Anchorage Museum, surrounded by historical images and dioramas, a volunteer pulls translucent zip ties through heavy black plastic mesh. The zipping repeats over and over as he methodically covers every intersection.

The beginnings of one of Warden’s polar bear hides. (Photo by: Anne Hillman, KSKA)

The plastic is meant for covering crab pots, but artist Warden has cut it into the shape of a polar bear hide. At this stage, the three long rows of ties make it look like a punk rock skunk fur. It will take about 360 hours–eight solid work weeks–to complete the task. Warden says the process reflects the work of her Inupiat ancestors.

“We did have a lot of crafts and different things that we created that have a similar tedious nature to it, where you’re just doing the same motion. Very repetitive, meditative motion to create something that you need for your survival and your life.”

But the object itself refers to the future. “The deeper reflection as you see a plastic polar bear hide is a reflection of the state of the polar bear today and what it might be in 50 years.”

And beyond. Well beyond, into what Warden calls the Hyper-Future. She plans to make three more hides with the same arduous process. She’s also using zip ties to hold together a full-body whaling suit, modeled after those used by her ancestors.

“We would be able to butcher whales half submerged in the ocean in these scuba suits,” she explains. “And it would be waterproof and watertight up to your face. So you would basically be submerged up to your chest.”

But Warden’s modernizing the materials, in part because working with bearded seal skin is difficult, especially in the middle of the museum where she’s demonstrating her craft. She also doesn’t want to wear a hot skin suit for two months solid when performing in her upcoming show, Unipkaagusiksuguvik: The Place of the Future-Ancient.

She says to imagine that time isn’t a line, it’s a circle. And in the place where the far future connects with the ancient past is an Inupiat ceremonial house filled with ancient objects made of modern materials, like neon paints and glow in the dark beads. That’s where Warden’s identity lives — connected to her past but also to her future.

“It’s the place where myths are born. It’s the birth place of the old, old stories.”

And it’s a place of language. For the two-month-long exhibit, Warden will only speak Inupiat. She says she’s always wanted to be proficient and this project gives her a two-year deadline.

Visitors won’t understand her words necessarily, but they will be able to communicate through body language, expressions, and art– things that transcends the past, the future, and the mythical space in between.

Warden’s show opens in October of 2016. She’s currently creating the pieces as a demonstration in the Anchorage Museum through 6 pm on Friday. She’ll return next summer as well.

Categories: Alaska News

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