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Fire prevention and community clean-up in Dillingham

Stephanie Maltarich
A firefighter hoses down a fire across from the Dillingham Senior Center. June 2021.

The month of May means community cleanup and fire prevention in Dillingham. For more, KDLG's Izzy Ross caught up with Dillingham Fire Department Coordinator Scott Runzo.

You do not have to be in Dillingham to share about events and information in your community! You can just give us a call or email if you have something you'd like to share! Call 907-842-2200 or email

Izzy Ross: I'm here with Dillingham Fire Department Coordinator Scott Runzo. Scott, we have a couple things we're talking about today. What is the first one?

Scott Runzo: We're going to be talking about fire mitigation. I know it doesn't seem like it with the weather. But if you remember last year, our wildfire season so we're going to be hopefully prepared to not have a wildfire season like last year, but we want to be prepared.

Ross: Absolutely. Last year was record-breaking wildfires across Bristol Bay. But then we also saw a couple fires in the boat yard and house fires. And so what are some of the things that you think about with fire mitigation?

Runzo: Well, fire mitigation has a couple different avenues it takes. One, we live in what's called an urban interface. So our tundra and our city kind of come together. So most of you know, a lot of our homes are backed around by tundra. A few years ago, we did have a tundra fire, and it encroached on houses. So that's part of it is, how do we reduce wildfires that come towards the city? And a big concern is reducing fires around our houses, so it doesn't go into the tundra and cause a major wildfire.

Ross: That's one of those things that people can do to prevent wildfires — or forest fires is Smokey the Bear says. What are a few factors that people can pay attention to and have control over?

Runzo: We have something I really want to talk about, because this is a good time of year to burn. So as we talked about mitigation, we talk about cleanup, the areas are still wet, still damp, and it's still kind of rainy season.

So the city — if you like to burn in a burn barrel, everything really requires a burn permit, even a burn barrel. And that's not to regulate or come and find you. That's just to know when we see smoke, we know, and we don't send out the volunteers and send out the equipment.

So it's very simple. You call the Dillingham dispatch [at 907-842-5354] to get a burn permit, and you basically go down [to the Fire Department building at the harbor by Tide Table] and pick up a burn permit. It doesn't cost anything, it just lets us know that, hey, something's going on in the area. And when you do that, in a burn barrel, keep it away from things that are combustible. If you're gonna do a burn pile, make sure it's supervised and make sure you do have a water source, just in case things get out of control.

Ross: Any other things besides that, that folks should pay attention to or be aware of as we head towards the summer?

Runzo: The biggest thing is looking around your house. I know we store a lot of stuff around our houses here. But one, keeping it away from our houses in case a fire does encroach on the house, that we can move the woodpiles anywhere from 30 to 100 feet, to clear the brush, 'cause wildfires spread with embers. So if ember goes and it gets close to your house where there's fuel, then that's going to help.

So cleaning up around your house. The other thing when you clean up around your house is making sure the fire department has access. That's always a challenge here that if there is a fire, can the fire trucks get there? And even if it's heading towards a wildfire behind your house, do we have access? So those are real important. So just generally clean up the brush. Keep things away from major structures as much as we can.

It's smoking season, barbecuing season, outdoor fire season. And so that's where a lot of fires start, a lot of fires just go unattended. A lot of people might want to choose to use the smoker on the wood porch. Not a good idea. Kind of look where you're using your smoker, how's it working, and there's all kinds of different smokers — electric and fire and stuff like that. So just be aware in putting out fires as you're barbecuing and doing other things.

Ross: I myself partake in many bonfires during the summer. It's one of my favorite activities here. When you're making your bonfire let's say on a beach or in your yard. What are some safety protocols you can take there?

Runzo: Don't get too excited about a large burn — keep it controlled, I know bonfires can go. And of course, have a water source if you can bucket to water, anything like that, in case something does happen. And at the end, that's what happens here, if we don't put it out fully and those embers, that wind kicks up, we're gone, and the fire spreads. I think that's the biggest thing.

Ross: Great. It's May and I know in past years Dillingham has also worked together to clean up the community. I see on the flyer here. Some folks who are participating are the Curyung Tribal Council, Nushagak Cooperative and the city. What are the dates for that and what does that consist of?

Runzo: Yes, this [May 25 - 27] is going to be the Dillingham cleanup day. And you'll be able to pick up the yellow bags that we all remember from last year from Wednesday to Friday of that week, from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m., and this is on the City of Dillingham Facebook page.

And so people are going to come. Last year you saw yellow bags, some people choose to take an area and say, around their neighborhood, or their driving down the road and say, 'Well, I'd love to go get pick up there.' There's all kinds of areas where we can pick up in there are areas that the city actually needs specifically done that no one goes to.

Ross: What are a couple of those areas?

Runzo: The cemeteries are some that people overlook. I know they're trying to work in on the cemeteries. Down by the dock — people might not go down by the dock and say, 'That needs to be picked up.' And kind of anywhere, behind even around the school, down by the softball field, things like that. If you don't have a place to go, there's plenty of places and they'll let you know that.

Ross: Great and where can people find out a little more information?

Runzo: Go to the Facebook site for the City of Dillingham and you'll have the flyer that has pretty much all the information there.

Ross: Scott Runzo, Fire Department coordinator, thank you so much for taking some time to talk today.

Get in touch with the author at or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.