A lightning-caused wildfire in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge more than doubled in size on Friday after increasing winds throughout the afternoon produced extreme fire behavior on the east and northeast sides of the fire.
The latest size estimate on the East Fork Fire as of late Friday night was 850 acres. Most of the new growth was to the east and northeast as firefighters focused on direct suppression on the west edge of the fire about a mile from the East Fork of the Moose River in an attempt to limit fire spread to the south and west closest to the Sterling Highway and community of Sterling.
The fire is burning in a limited suppression area, approximately 4 ½ miles northeast of the highway and the community. The fire is approximately 15 miles northeast of Soldotna. No residences or other values at risk are immediately threatened.
Winds from the southwest are pushing the fire farther into the refuge, away from roads and populated areas. The Alaska Division of Forestry is coordinating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage the fire for ecological benefits in the refuge.
The increase in fire size and the prevailing winds pushed heavy smoke into Anchorage on Friday night. Residents in Alaska’s largest city will likely see and smell the effects of the fire until the wind direction changes.
There were 41 personnel assigned to the fire as of Friday night, including 16 BLM Alaska Fire Service smokejumpers and a 20-person Type 2 crew from the same agency. An initial attack crew that arrived late Friday night from Fairbanks was shuttled into the fire by helicopter on Saturday morning and two more initial attack crews were scheduled to arrive Saturday morning, which will put the total number of personnel on the fire at approximately 125.
The northern edge of the fire moderated Friday night when it ran into swampy terrain but the northeast and east sides of the fire remain 100 percent active, burning in predominantly black spruce and some mixed hardwoods.
Two water-scooping aircraft and an air tanker made multiple water drops on the south and west sides of the fire on Friday and will continue making strategic water drops today to support firefighters on the ground to prevent growth on the southwest corner of the fire.
Similar weather conditions are expected on the fire today as Friday, with high temperatures around 70 and relative humidity in the low 30 percent range. There is a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon.
The East Fork Fire was reported at 6:25 p.m. Thursday, June 15. The lightning-caused fire grew rapidly and was estimated at 100 acres by the time air attack personnel from Palmer arrived.
The fire is located in a limited suppression area but due to the extreme fire behavior it exhibited and the fire’s proximity to local infrastructure, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made the decision to take suppression action on a portion of the fire.
Water drops from aircraft are being used to support firefighting efforts on the ground. Retardant is not being used because of the fire’s proximity to an anadramous salmon stream.
The public is asked to be on the lookout for firefighters and equipment on the highway. lear of crews working in the area and be aware of the potential for aircraft using Skilak Lake to scoop water.
A temporary flight restriction (TFR) has been put in place over the fire area and pilots should check with the Federal Aviation Administration before flying in the area. More information on the TFR is available at http://tfr.faa.gov/tfr2/list.html.
For more information, contact Alaska Division of Forestry public information officer Celeste Prescott at 907-244-9376. Information about the fire is also being posted on KPBOEM.blogspot.com and https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5250/