Swan Lake Fire June 23rd: Canadian Scoopers Arrive to Support Fire Crews as They Work on Control Lines

Hotshot Crew, Pioneer Peak coordinating water drops with aircraft.
Hotshot Crew, Pioneer Peak coordinating water drops with aircraft. Photo: Pioneer Peak Interagency Hotshots

Fire crews strengthened and reinforced firelines on the western and southern edges as they worked to increase the width of the control lines and continued extensive mop-up operations. Northwesterly winds pushed the fire further to the east of Mystery Creek Road and southeast away from the community of Sterling. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge closed the Watson Lake Campground to public use yesterday. Hotshots, hand crews and support specialists will use this campground for overnight sleeping to increase their overall efficiency and decrease travel time as they work to control the southern flank of the fire. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge closed the Watson Lake Campground to public use yesterday. Hotshots, hand crews and support specialists will use this campground for overnight sleeping to increase their overall efficiency and decrease travel time as they work to control the southern flank of the fire. 

Firefighters worked with specialized bulldozers to establish direct and indirect control lines on the east and southeastern perimeter. As the winds shifted throughout the afternoon, a few spot fires occurred over the control lines and were contained by ground resources working with helicopters dropping water. The overall strategy is to slow fire progression on the eastern flank and push it towards the mountains to the east as the fire burns in thick black spruce stands that have not burned since the last wildfire in 1947. Near milepost 101 of the Sterling Highway, heavy equipment is being used to construct contingency lines.

June 23rd Swan Lake Fire Information Map.
June 23rd Swan Lake Fire Information Map.

In addition to ground crews, aerial resources remain critical in targeted areas to slow fire spread towards the Sterling Highway. Large water dropping aircraft from Canada known as “Scoopers” will assist with firefighting efforts today. These planes are capable of delivering significant amounts of water to support suppression efforts by scooping hundreds of gallons of water from nearby Skilak and Hidden lakes and dropping it along the fire’s edge. Recreationists in these areas should remain alert and vigilant about staying away from the center of the lakes while these aircraft assist the fire crews as they work along the fire’s edge. 

Travelers are reminded that smoky conditions could reduce visibility along the Sterling Highway, especially between MP60-70, as winds push the smoke to the south and east. Please remember to drive cautiously, use headlights, and give the right-of-way to any fire traffic in the area. 

The Kenai Peninsula Borough has made a fire interactive map available for residents and can be found under Current Situational Reports on the KPB emergency blog at www.kpboem.com. Those accessing the map will find the fire perimeter as well as the land ownership parcels in the Sterling area. This makes it possible to see the distance between the fire and residential areas.  For Kenai Borough emergency information, please contact the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management call center at 907-262-INFO (4636) between 8am and 8pm. 

The Borough also has fire prevention programs in place for community members. More information can be found at Firewise.org, Alaska.gov/fire/firewise or Wildland Fire – Ready Set Go! program. Residents are encouraged to sign up for KPB Alerts which is a Borough notification system whenever information needs to be rapidly conveyed to the community. Residents can text “KPB” to 99411 to receive a link to sign up on your mobile device. 

Nikiski Fire Brush Truck  is working closely with a bulldozer putting in a contingency line.
Photo:Kassidy Stock, Nikiski Fire
Nikiski Fire Brush Truck is working closely with a bulldozer putting in a contingency line.
Photo: Kassidy Stock, Nikiski Fire

WEATHER: A warming and drying trend will continue with lower relative humidity and a chance of isolated thunderstorms to the east of the fire. An air quality advisory continues through Monday, June 24.

SAFETY: Motorists are urged to yield to fire apparatus and adhere to traffic signage. 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 and smoke-related information, official updates and helpful links at www.kpboem.com. The Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) around the fire area is still in effect to support suppression efforts and firefighter safety. Pilots can confirm the current TFR restrictions at tfr.faa.gov. Be advised that personal drone operations are not permitted on the refuge.

OBJECTIVE: Fire managers with the Alaska Division of Forestry are working collaboratively with refuge personnel to manage the fire. The focus of all suppression efforts is to protect all of the values at risk including the community of Sterling and the highway corridor while reducing future wildland fire hazards and enhancing wildlife habitat. 

KENAI REFUGE INFORMATION:  Contact the Refuge Visitor Center at 907-260-2820 or online at kenai.fws.gov.

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