Two Anchorage adults have been charged with igniting the Sockeye fire, which destroyed fifty – five homes near Willow in June.
The point of ignition of the Sockeye fire has been traced to an unattended burn pile on Willow property owned by Anchorage resident Greg Imig, aged 59. Imig, and Amy Dewitt, age 42 have been charged for their role in starting the 7,220 acre wildfire. According to state fire information officer Tim Mowry, Imig and DeWitt did not have a burn permit for the debris pile located on forested lands at a recreational cabin owned by Imig.
“They were burning debris without a permit, and they did leave that fire unattended, and it is a worst case scenario and that’s why it strictly says on our burn permits, and it is what we try to drive home.. never leave any fire unattended.”
According to Mowry, an investigation conducted by the state division of forestry and the state fire marshall’s office concluded that the illegal burn was left unattended on the evening of June 13. One of several of the burn piles smoldered and crept into the woods, resulting in the blaze that swept toward Willow on Sunday, June 14, causing evacuations Sunday night and Monday.
“You know, to be clear, there was no burn suspension in place. So if these folks had have had a permit, and had followed safe burn guidelines, they would have been within the law. It’s tragic all around what happened”, Mowry says.
Imig and Dewitt are to be arraigned in Palmer District Court on July 28. Charges include three counts of reckless endangerment, criminally negligent burning, failure to obtain a burn permit, burning without clearing an area, allowing the spread of fire and leaving a fire unattended. Mowry says that Amy Dewitt did make the 911 call to fire officials.
The Sockeye wildfire moved so quickly that many evacuees had little time to gather more than a few items and rescue pets. The fire was fought with help from Hot Shot crews from the lower 48, and at one point there were 500 firefighters attacking the blaze. Mowry says that the most recent information puts the cost of fighting the blaze at over $8 million. That cost does not include losses of the structures.
In addition to the 55 homes lost, 44 additional structures were lost in the blaze.