Firefighters warn of mudflats danger as temperatures warm up

Photo of mud rescue near Portage (from Girdwood Volunteer Fire Department)
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - This time of year in Alaska comes with a potentially deadly hazard: getting stuck in the mud flats.

Hooligan season has brought waves of fishers back to the Turnagain Arm. Just days ago, a woman in the Portage area got stuck while fishing and nearly drowned before being rescued by the Girdwood Volunteer Fire Department.

"It's like harvesting pineapple," said Ieremia Sheck while netting for Hooligan.

He's joined by members of his family who watch and help load the fish he catches from the net to a nearly full bucket of freshly caught Hooligan.

"Getting this small guy right here is not an easy job, my hands are cold and stiff. The only difficult thing is the cold other than that it's pretty simple," said Sheck.

It was just days ago, near where Sheck was fishing at the mouth of 20 Mile River, that an unidentified woman became stuck in the mud off one of the flats and nearly drowned as the tide began to rise.

In the late 1980's, a woman on her honeymoon got stuck in the mud and drowned at high tide. Not too long after that, the Girdwood Volunteer Fire Department developed a tool specifically to prevent tragedies like that one.

"We have not had a fatality since then," said Manch Garhart, Deputy Fire Chief for the Girdwood Volunteer Fire Department.

It was this same type of tool that saved the unidentified woman last Friday.

"We're able to go in and use a use a (nozzle that's) similar to a piercing nozzle in a structure fire, pierce through the glacier soot and break the suction," said Deputy Chief Garhart.

Garhart says it's important to keep your feet moving when you're walking along the flats because if you don't the mud will quickly start to suck you in.

"You go into there, you can start sinking into it and it creates a suction barrier, and the goal is to break that suction, so keep walking forward or getting back out," said Deputy Chief Garhart.

For anything higher than the knees, Deputy Chief Garhart recommends calling for help sooner than later because at that point you will be racing the rising tide. If you want to make sure you never step into a situation like that, Garhart advises never to go past the grass.

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