Alaska Co-op Battles Wildfire and Helps Members With Recovery

Crews from Matanuska Electric Association work inside of fire lines as firefighters battled the McKinley Wildfire near Palmer. (Photo By: Matanuska EA)
Crews from Matanuska Electric Association work inside of fire lines as firefighters battled the McKinley wildfire near Palmer, Alaska. (Photo By: Matanuska EA)

With a widespread wildfire now 95% contained after three weeks, crews from the Matanuska Electric Association are busy helping their members get the power they’ll need to repair their homes in south-central Alaska.

As the fire grew to more than 3,000 acres, more than 2,000 residents in the immediate area evacuated from their homes, according to the Alaska Wildland Fire Information Office.

Co-op crews worked closely with more than 500 firefighters over the past few weeks, and damage to co-op lines in some areas was substantial. Matanuska EA lost at least 30 poles on its system and is still rebuilding lines. Co-op crews have also assisted firefighters with tree and debris removal.

“Power was initially out to more than 450 members, and that number grew to more than 500 members as lines were de-energized to assist responding fire crews and to mitigate any hazards,” said Jennifer Castro, the Palmer-based co-op’s public relations manager.

The blaze claimed 52 homes, parts of three businesses and more than 80 other structures, and co-op members are now trying to rebuild before colder weather sets in.

“We have been able to re-energize our primary line and restore power to members in a progressive manner,” said Castro. Restoration has been a slow process due to safety concerns, she said.

As evacuees have been cleared to return to their property, some have discovered that their damaged homes must be repaired before electricity can be safely restored.  But the co-op is moving quickly to restore service once these repairs are complete.

“MEA is covering all costs of infrastructure replacement up to the member’s meter base and typical temporary service and reconnection fees will not be charged,” said Castro. At least 50 homes may need major repairs or reconstruction.

“During this crisis, it was inspiring for our cooperative to join a community of professionals and volunteers pulling together to help our members,” said Matanuska EA CEO Tony Izzo. “From the initial response from our line and clearing crews to the longer-term restoration assistance from our engineering and member service staff, it’s been a true team effort.”