Officials remind residents to be cautious entering back into burn areas

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Fire officials want residents to be cautious when they return back to properties and areas affected by recent fire activity.

According to incident command at the McKinley Fire, members of fire crews have been injured during the incident returning back to burn areas.

Debris, toxins, weakened trees, and ash pits are common in burn areas in Alaska and officials have tips on being safe.

“Standing here now, I've actually been smelling something I didn't smell when the fire was active,” said Brett Gregr, a line safety officer working the McKinley Fire, while he toured a residence.

Burnt cars, tires, and fuel tanks were on that property.

“And if you smell these chemicals, and rubber and all of those toxic things, I'd avoid the area,” Gregr said.

Several firefighters have been burned after stepping into ashpits.

“You have such a think layer of organics that haven’t decomposed fully and in those dry conditions they’re still burning,” Gregr said. “What that is creating are these holes which is very much like a booby trap. It’s burning and you can step in them. The ground gives away, it looks safe, but it’s not.”

Gregr said he recommends checking the ground before you step onto it with a shovel or a thermal camera. He also recommends wearing leather boots and long pants but says that even with protective clothing on, fire crews have fallen victim to the pits.

He said that ash pits can remain for months after a fire.

Weakened trees are also left behind after a fire. Gregr recommends having fire crews check your property for weakened trees before returning.

“It’s very real thing that actually kills firefighters every year,” he said.

Gregr said that the best way to void these hazards is to stay out of burn areas all together until fire crews deme it’s safe or until plenty of moisture comes to these areas.

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