The lightning-caused Swan Lake Fire was estimated at 3,665 acres after a reconnaissance flight Tuesday evening, an increase of approximately 1,000 acres from Monday. Most of the new growth was to the northwest and northeast away from the Sterling highway and 5 ½ miles from the community of Sterling.
As of late Tuesday, the fire was approximately 2.7 miles north of the highway at its closest point near milepost 68. Smoke from the fire is visible from the Sterling Highway between mileposts 65 and 75. Motorists are advised to slow down and use caution driving through the fire area.
The fire is burning in a Limited protection area within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Fire managers with the Alaska Division of Forestry are working collaboratively with refuge personnel to manage the fire to reduce future wildland fire hazards and enhance wildlife habitat by allowing for fire’s natural role to create a diversity of vegetation types and tree age classes.
A Type 3 incident management team assumed command of the fire Monday morning and will be focusing on strategic planning and developing management action points for the fire. The team will be monitoring the fire’s growth and developing a plan that focuses on ensuring protection of the community of Sterling and mitigating smoke and fire impacts to the Sterling Highway, while allowing the fire to reduce hazardous fuels and enhance wildlife habitats in the Mystery Creek area. The team is also working with local agencies to ensure public safety. A virtual joint information center (VJIC) has been set up online at www.kpboem.com for public information. Collaborating agencies are posting updates on safety, smoke impacts and fire-related information.
The fire is located in an area where few values are threatened or where likelihood of fire impact has been mitigated. The burn scar and recent fire lines from the 2017 East Fork Fire, cleared gas line right-of-way, mechanical fuel treatments and extensive wetlands form a robust series of natural and man-made barriers which reduce potential for fire spread towards critical infrastructure and the community of Sterling.
Due to ongoing fire activity in the area, refuge managers have closed the following access routes within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to the public: Mystery Creek Ranch Road, East Fork Moose River north of Watson Lake and the Enstar Pipeline right-of-way from the refuge boundary east of Sterling to the Chickaloon River. The closures were enacted to minimize risk to people and provide access by firefighters as needed. The closure will remain in effect through July 11. Questions or requests for copies of the closure order or maps should be directed to the Refuge at (907) 262-7021. People with recreational-related questions should contact the Refuge visitor center at (907) 260-2820.