Alaska News Nightly: May 31, 2011

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Fire North of Fairbanks Draws Big Response
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A wildfire north of Fairbanks is drawing a major response.  The 600 acre fire north of the Chatanika River was called in Monday afternoon. The blaze has been hit with water and retardant drops, while crews attack it on the ground.  Fire Information officer Sarah Satloos says the response is aimed at keeping the Hastings Fire away from private property along the river.

The Hastings fire has been fanned by southwest winds, which increased activity but drove the main advance of flames away from populated areas.  The scenario is similar to what happened on the nearby Moose Mountain fire last week.  The cause of both fires is undetermined. While the wind direction has been favorable, Fairbanks area forestry information officer Pete Buist says weather conditions are a concern.

Buist says resources have been beefed up with outside help to meet the challenge.

Buist says additional water scooping planes, retardant air tankers and helicopters, as well as additional fire crews, have been brought into the state.

As of this morning 265 fires had burned over 100,000 acres in Alaska.  16 fires are staffed including one of the largest. The East Volkmar fire, northeast of Delta Junction has burned an estimated 19,000 acres.  The lightning started blaze grew dramatically over the weekend due to high winds and hot dry weather, but Fire Information Officer Sharon Roesch says conditions moderated enough Monday for crews work closer to the front.

Roesch says the fire has primarily been moving away from areas where there are structures.

200 fire fighters are working the East Volkmar Fire, keeping an eye on remote cabins in the potential path of the fire.

Meanwhile, rain has helped efforts to slow another large fire in the interior. The 23,000 acre Coal Creek Fire, north east of Healy, picked up about half inch of precipitation and that allowed more direct suppression work today.

A Fire Weather Watch is effect through tonight along the Alaska Range and for the Tanana and Deltana Flats due to winds expected to gust to 30 miles per hour and low humidity.

Top VA Official Visits Rural Alaska
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
The top official from the Department of Veterans Affairs spent Memorial Day afternoon in Rural Alaska. Secretary Eric Shinseki traveled to the Bering Sea Village of Kwigillingok to get a better understanding of what it will take to care for veterans in the remote reaches of Alaska.   From member station KYUK in Bethel, reporter Shane Iverson was on the ground when Shinseki’s helicopter arrived and has this report.

Petersburg Coast Guard Commander Temporarily Relieved of Duty
Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg
There’s been a shake-up in command at Petersburg’s Coast Guard detachment. The Coast Guard announced on Monday that it has temporarily relieved Anacapa commanding officer Lt. Matthias Wholley from his duties in charge of the 110-foot cutter.

A Coast Guard Spokesman, Chief Petty Officer Dana Warr, says the Sector Juneau Commander, Captain Melisa Bert, made the decision after an incident reportedly occurred Monday, while the cutter was at sea. He says he can’t go into details because the incident is under investigation.

According to Warr, the incident did not involve an accident or any injuries. While the investigation continues, Warr says Wholley is being reassigned to Juneau.

The Coast Guard says its Commandant in Washington DC will make the final decision on whether Wholly will be permanently relieved or returned to command aboard the Anacapa.

Court Issues Final Judgement on Reinstating Roadless Protections
Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg
A federal court has issued its final judgment for reinstating roadless protections for the Tongass National Forest. It overturns an exemption put in place by the Forest Service under the administration of George W. Bush. The judgment includes a list of hydropower, mining and other developments that can still move forward in roadless areas with federal approval. The Forest Service says it does not plan to appeal.

TSA Official Meeting With Alaska Social Service Providers
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
Wednesday, an official from the Transportation Security Administration will meet with Alaska social service providers in an effort to find ways to make airport security procedures less intrusive and traumatic.  The TSA is responding to prodding from Senator Mark Begich, who has called TSA officials on the carpet a few times in Washington.

Alaskans are among those who have been complaining about invasions of privacy and groping since state Representative Sharon Cissna went public about her refusal to fly because of the way TSA dealt with her breast cancer scars.  The audience on the public radio call-in show “Talk of Alaska” today was no exception.

Begich responded that while he understands there is a need for heightened security measures in an era of terrorism, it appears that the TSA may in some instances have gone too far, and increasing numbers of Alaskans are letting him know that.

Begich said Alaska has a lot of rural residents and elders who could be rudely shocked by the kind of security procedures now common for travelers outside the state, and he says there is a “level of dignity that TSA needs to provide.”

According to Begich aide Julie Hasquet, among participants in tomorrow’s meeting will be those who treat victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, developmental disabilities and cancer survivors.

Links Between Cancer, Chemicals Focus in Series of Talks
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Links between cancer and chemicals in our environment will be the focus of a series of talks in Alaska beginning Wednesday in Anchorage. Jeanne Rizzo is an RN and is the president of the Breast Cancer Fund. The organization works to raise awareness of pervasive toxins in every day products and what people can do to make better choices for themselves and their families. Rizzo says 83,000 synthetic chemicals have been put into commerce since World War II and the exposure to these chemicals from before a person is born through aging creates a toxic soup. Rizzo says chemicals that disrupt a woman’s endocrine system and mimic hormones can contribute to the growth of breast tumors. Alaska ranks 14th in the nation for breast cancer and Rizzo says every state has areas of concern.

Athletes Compete in First Valdez Summit to Sound Challenge
Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez
If you were looking for a race besides the Indy 500 over Memorial Day weekend, then Prince William Sound was the place to go.  Various athletes spent their weekend competing in the first-ever Valdez Summit to Sound Challenge.