Nestled between Mount Susitna and the Talkeetna Mountains, lies the small community of Big Lake. There are less than 3,000 people who live there and the area receives, on average, 51.4 inches of snowfall per year.
In June 1996, a fire known as the Miller’s Reach Fire, spread through and destroyed nearly 37,000 acres of land. Many Big Lake residents lost their homes and means of livelihood because of how much the fire consumed. Residents of the Horseshoe Lake Community, a smaller community located within Big Lake, had to be evacuated but none of them were, thankfully, hurt.
Horseshoe Lake covers over 3,000 acres in a black spruce, birch and muskeg forest and houses around 135 homes and recreational cabins.
Since the Miller’s Reach Fire, residents have come together to form an informal Breakfast Club to prevent such a disaster from happening again. They have met twice a week for the past ten years to accomplish tasks that would make Horseshoe Lake more Firewise.
Last year, they completed a four-year project designed to bring natural gas into the area, thereby eliminating oil and propane fuel tanks from their properties. A neighborhood directory that includes information such as emergency contacts, residents with fire pumps, and Firewise information has been scripted for quick use during a wildfire.
For the past three years, residents have also participated in a clean-up project to clear roadways of trash and woody debris.
Then in 2006, with the ten-year commemoration of the devastating Miller’s Reach Fire on the horizon, Horseshoe Lake received Firewise recognition. The main goal for the first year of the program was to education people about wildfires. Firewise material was distributed to property owners and neighbors spent hundreds of hours clearing away fire hazards and creating defensible space.