The Swan Lake Fire in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge grew in size Friday, but firefighters were able to keep it from spreading south and west toward the Sterling Highway. As of Friday night, the fire was estimated at 12,564 acres, an increase of more than 4,000 acres, according to th Alaska Divsion of Forestry.
As expected, fire activity increased in the afternoon with warmer, drier conditions evidenced by a large smoke plume that was visible locally in Kenai and Soldotna, as well as from Anchorage across Cook Inlet. Winds carried the fire at a rate of one-half mile per hour by Friday afternoon; this growth enhances the ecosystem as it burns through black spruce and dense, mature vegetation.
Personnel monitored the northeast perimeter while crews made strides on protection lines on the southwest perimeter. An air tanker and two large helicopters worked the fire with strategic water drops to protect the values associated with the community of Sterling, the Sterling Highway and energy infrastructures.
Firefighters on the ground made good progress establishing indirect line along the east side of the 2017 East Fork Fire burn scar. Tactical firing operations were used in the late evening in preparation for the projected wind gusts that are expected to come from the east today. The UAF Nanook Type 2 Wildland Fire Crew was instrumental in completing a Helibase location near Otter Trail Road in the community of Sterling.
Today crews will take advantage of lighter fuels and pockets of wetlands along the southwest perimeter to continue creating black line and securing the fire. Water drops from aircraft will be used to support firefighting efforts on the ground. Retardant is not being used because of the fire’s proximity to an anadromous salmon stream. Retardant could be used if the fire poses a direct threat to values at risk but that is not the case at this time.
OBJECTIVE: 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. They aim to reduce future wildland fire hazards and enhance wildlife habitat by allowing for fire’s natural role: creating a diversity of vegetation types and tree age classes. The Type 3 incident management organization is managing the fire’s growth and is focused on the protection of the community of Sterling while also mitigating smoke and fire impacts to the Sterling Highway.
WEATHER: Light rain and cooler temperatures are expected through the weekend; however, no wetting rain is anticipated to help slow fire activity. Fire meteorologists are watching southeast winds that may challenge fire management strategies in the late afternoon with possible gusts of 20 miles per hour.
SAFETY: Motorists are urged to yield to fire apparatus entering the Sterling Highway and to adhere to traffic signage staged near miles 82 and 92. Observing the fire from a safe location should be practiced instead of stopping along the highway. For current road conditions visit http://511.alaska.gov. Supporting agencies are posting fire-related information, official updates and helpful links on the virtual joint information center (VJIC) at http://www.kpboem.com. Smoke predictions and health/safety topics are also listed on the VJIC. The Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) is still in effect to support suppression efforts and firefighter safety. Pilots and drone operators can confirm the current TFR restrictions at https://tfr.faa.gov/save_pages/detail_9_4869.html.
KENAI NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE INFORMATION: For outdoor recreation or reservation questions, please contact the Refuge at 907-262-7021 or http://www.fws.gov/refuge/kenai/visit/contact_us.html. Contact the Refuge Visitor Center by calling 907-260-2820 or by clicking http://www.kenai.fws.gov.