More than 50 wildland firefighters are responding to a 121-acre wildfire on the Kenai Peninsula, one of several wildfires on the Peninsula started by lightning associated with afternoon thunderstorms Wednesday.
The Tustumena Lake Fire (#179) is located in the Caribou Hills approximately 30 miles south of Soldotna. The fire was discovered at 6 p.m. by a helicopter en route to check on a lightning strike in the area.
Once on the ground, forestry personnel reported a fire burning in grass, brush and dead, downed trees with a 100 percent active perimeter. There were structures reported in the area but they were not immediately threatened. The fire is burning in the footprint of the 2007 Caribou Hills Fire.
An air tanker based in Palmer was ordered to drop retardant around the head of fire to slow its spread and helicopter water drops were used to slow fire activity on the north end of the fire. Five loads of retardant were dropped around the fire and both the retardant and water drops proved effective in helping to contain the spread of the fire.
By 8 p.m. the fire was estimated at 45 acres and eight smokejumpers from the BLM Alaska Fire Service in Fairbanks were ordered to assist initial attack personnel from Kenai Area forestry that had been dropped off by helicopter or drove ATVs into the fire. At midnight, the fire was estimated at 121 acres and a total of 15 personnel were working to contain it.
The Division of Forestry’s Pioneer Peak Interagency Hotshot Crew based in Palmer and the Yukon Type 2 Initial Attack Crew based in Soldotna arrived at the fire Thursday morning and will be transported to the fireline by helicopter to assist with suppression efforts and strengthen containment lines.
The Tustumena Lake Fire was one of eight new wildfires started by lightning Wednesday on the Kenai Peninsula and in southwest Alaska, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center in Fairbanks. Five new fires were reported on the Kenai Peninsula and three new fires were reported in southwest Alaska around McGrath. Nearly 4,200 lightning strikes were recorded across Alaska on Wednesday, most of them concentrated in southwest Alaska and on the Kenai Peninsula.
The other four fires reported on the Kenai Peninsula are burning in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and fire mangers are assessing what, if any, action to take. One of those fires, the Kolomin Lake Fire (#180), is located about six miles north of the Tustumena Lake Fire. That fire was estimated at 1 acre and will likely be staffed today. State forestry is also checking on another remote fire that was reported near Mile 71 of the Sterling Highway north of Skilak Lake. The Watson Fire was reported at two-tenths of an acre but forestry personnel couldn’t access it because there are no roads into the area and lightning prevented aerial reconnaissance. The fire received rain associated with the storm.
All three of the fires reported in the McGrath area are burning in Limited protection areas and do not pose a threat at this time. Those fires are being monitored by air.
Fire managers will be conducting detection flights today on the Kenai Peninsula and in southwest Alaska to scout for any new fires started by yesterday’s lightning.