The Card Street fire continued on its east-bound path through the Kenai Peninsula Thursday, burning through the black spruce of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and nearing the Sterling Highway.
Thursday evening, Alaska Division of Forestry Public Information Officer Terry Anderson said that the fire is 2 miles from Sterling Highway, creating the possibility of a closure. The fire remains south of the highway.
“What we have to be mindful of is any winds that come from the south,” Anderson said.
In a 12:30 p.m. meeting on Thursday at the Sterling Community Center, Anderson said Thursday’s main focus for the firefighters remained the Kenai Keys and the south side of the Kenai River, where crews worked to reduce the prevalence of spot fires.
“(The fire) will go where the wind pushes it,” Anderson said.
Shannon McCarthy, public information officer for the Alaska Department of Transportation Central Region, said the department would wait for the go-ahead to close the highway from those working close to the fire.
“It really depends, it would be the responders on scene that would make that call, and then the Department of Transportation would assist with putting up barricades,” she said.
Alaska State Trooper Public Information Officer Beth Ipsen said in the case of a highway closure, troopers would be present to direct traffic and monitor checkpoints. She said personnel close to the fire would have to make the call first.
“With the fires that are going on, (troopers) patrol the evacuated areas, and they’ll also do traffic control,” she said.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre and Brenda Ahlberg, Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management public information officer, also spoke at the meeting. They assured community members that resources are being distributed as best they can and that services for those affected by evacuation will continue.
Bulldozer lines have been created from Aspen Road to Bottenintnin Lake, and from the lake to Skilak Lake Loop Road. The lines are an attempt to prevent the fire from backtracking on itself should the wind shift directions.
In total, there are now 256 crew members actively fighting the Card Street fire, said Division of Forestry Public Information Officer Tim Mowry, including hotshot crews that arrived Wednesday from Montana and Idaho. There are five Type 1 hotshot crews and three Type 2 Alaska crews fighting the fire, he said.
The new crew and incident commander, Bob Allbee, of Washtington, were eased into the situation on Thursday with a briefing at the Sterling Elementary School. Anderson said there is not a long-term fire plan yet, but new daily plans are made each night as the objectives for fighting the fire change.
“I think they’ll be working with what the previous team’s been doing, and a lot of what they’re doing will be dependent on the weather,” Mowry said. “They typically won’t do much with the fire in the refuge.”
Other factors affecting overall strategy are resources and fire behavior. Mowry said the crews can expect more resources soon, though he could not confirm what kind.
Anderson said the majority of firefighters assigned to the Card Street fire will be camping overnight near the fire lines. He said some may choose to stay in the Sterling Elementary School.
There have been no further evacuations ordered and no injuries reported, Anderson said.
The Federal Aviation Administration has not had to divert or suspend any flights in the area. Spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the FAA will remain watchful over the areas affected by fires before a future determination.
“So far we’ve had no diversions, but obviously they have to watch very closely,” he said. “You don’t want to fly right into a large smoky plume.”
Kenitzer said the FAA takes the altitude and flight path of a plane into consideration when deciding whether to suspend or change flights. Often, he said the solution is to simply change the flight path, causing the plane to land at a different airport than originally planned.
According to a news release from the American Red Cross of Alaska, the organization has sent disaster workers into local communities affected by fires in the Willow and Kenai Peninsula areas. The release states the Red Cross has provided overnight stays to 480 individuals thus far.
The Red Cross hosted a service center to assist those who have lost their home to the Card Street fire at the Sterling Community Center at 3 p.m., Thursday.
Administrative Assistant Rochelle Hanson said the center had no overnight guests on Wednesday, as many people are offering their spare rooms, cottages and other sleeping arrangements to those in need.
Anderson said meetings will continue to be held at the Sterling Community Center at 12:30 p.m. for the next two days to update residents and volunteers on the status of the Card Street fire. He said the incident commander of the newest team to head up the firefighting efforts is expected to be at Friday’s meeting.
Homer Electric Association’s Director of Member Relations Joe Gallagher said, after meeting with members of the Division of Forestry Thursday evening, HEA does not have a go-ahead to restore power to the 169 customers without it in the Kenai Keys area.
“The power will remain out … and we will re-evaluate with the Division of Forestry tomorrow morning,” he said.