By Leigh Armstrong

The Skagway fire and police departments put out an unattended camp fire May 24 and confiscated gear left behind by a camper.

The area had not been properly cleared and the camp fire burned into the ground.

Fire and police officials found the smoldering fire about 50 feet off the service road by the water tower leading to Dewey Lake. It was inside a makeshift fire pit with a circle of stones, Skagway fire chief Joe Rau said. The fire pit was part of an illegal camping site in the woods.

After receiving a call from municipal public works alerting them to smoke coming from the area, the fire and police departments headed up the trail to investigate. They found evidence that whoever had used the fire had been living in the woods.

“There was quite bit of ground cover. Old leaves and moss,” Rau said. “They didn’t clean the area of all the duff and old leaves, so it got in and continued to smolder.”

The fire department extinguished the remains of the camp fire and the police took the campers’ items back to the station in case the illegal camper wants to pick them up. Skagway’s municipal code prohibits camping within one mile of town, unless it’s in a designated location, police chief Ray Leggett said.

“It happens because (the campers) don’t know any better,” Leggett said. “When they come to get their gear, we let them know not to be within one mile.”

Leggett said people frequently camp close to town. When officers spot the gear, they take it down to the station and use the opportunity to educate campers of the rules. Fines are typically not handed out, unless someone is continually camping within the one-mile radius, Leggett said.

As of publication, the camper has not claimed their gear at the police station.

The incident occurred during a time when Skagway hadn’t seen heavy rain for days. A week after the camp fire, the municipality instituted a burn ban in town and the surrounding area. The ban, which went into effect May 30, included portable outdoor replaces. The ban was lifted when it rained the first week of June.

With the ongoing housing shortage in Skagway, Rau said illegal campers starting camp fires is becoming a more common problem. While this is the first such fire call Rau has received this year, he has heard of other people squatting on property without permission.

“I just don’t think people really care. You just want to have a fire and they want to do a fire anytime they want,” Rau said. “They don’t want somebody to tell them how to do it or where to do it.”