ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - While crews wrap up the work at the Isom Creek Fire, firefighters at the camp have some new K-9 companions watching their back for bears.
According to the Bureau of Land Management, there's only one isolated hot-spot on the east side of the fire as of Tuesday and is not spreading. They are watching the spot closely to determine if a response is necessary.
While the firefighters are at camp, they're kept safe from bears disturbed by the flames by Soledad and Rio. The two Karelian Bear Dogs are handled by Nils Pedersen, director of the Wind River Bear Institute.
According to Pedersen and the BLM, this is the first time in history that these kinds of dogs have been used at a fire line in North America.
Pedersen explained that Karelian Bear Dogs are historical hunting companions meant to track down bears of all types. He said Soledad, a ten-year-old female is the lead of the two. She has worked with black, grizzly, and even polar bears.
"She's about as good as they get," he said.
The dogs are not ever set free on the bears, because that's dangerous for the bear and the dogs Pedersen said. Instead, they stay on the leash or in the back of a pick-up with a topper and windows to track the bears.
"When the dogs sniff bear, they bark," he said, "and they often go to the side of the topper that the bear is on."
So far, Pedersen said they've had an encounter with a black bear that a few good barks from the dogs kept from being a problem.
The whole point of using the dogs is to keep the firefighters safe, but while not having to use lethal deterrents or trapping to keep the bears away.
Soledad and Rio are able to spot bears before they are in camp, he said they are particularly useful for the morning time, when bears try to sneak around camp looking for food.
On top of their usefulness, Pedersen said they are a welcome addition to the camp and are great for morale.
"You know, having them around camp so that people get to pet a dog and visit with them while they're away from home, away from their families, and away from their dogs," he said.
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