Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Boats come and go from the Upper Skilak Campground boat launch with smoke from the Card Street wildfire in the background on June 16. Fire crews involved in repairing damage to the landscape caused by firefighting efforts are using caution in the area due to lingering smoke and hot spots, as well as danger from falling trees.

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Boats come and go from the Upper Skilak Campground boat launch with smoke from the Card Street wildfire in the background on June 16. Fire crews involved in repairing damage to the landscape caused by firefighting efforts are using caution in the area due to lingering smoke and hot spots, as well as danger from falling trees.

Card Street repair on hold for safety hazards

Repairs to the Kenai Peninsula’s landscape following the fight against the Card Street fire are mostly complete, but some are being delayed due to unsafe conditions.

Suppression Foreman Patrick Quiner at the Soldotna Office of the Alaska Division of Forestry said local firefighters have been working their way through the repair plan put together by the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. This entails returning the landscape disrupted by bulldozer lines created to secure the fire’s perimeter to as close to its natural state as possible.

Quiner said the bulldozer lines west of Skilak Lake Loop Road have been taken care of, but the Division of Forestry is waiting to tackle the lines east of the road. Falling trees, occasional flare-ups and smoke activity are making it unsafe for firefighters to enter the area near the Lower Boat Launch at Skilak Lake, he said.

“We are monitoring the fire in that area,” Quiner said. “We flew (over) it Saturday, and there was only one smoke showing itself out there. There’s not a lot of activity.”

Until the fire activity calms down, Quiner said the Division of Forestry cannot complete repairs on the bulldozer lines in that area. He stressed the importance of residents, boaters and other passersby to stay away from the boat launch.

The “duff layer,” or the layer of soil on top of a tree’s root system, is very shallow in Alaska, Quiner said. When the Card Street fire burned through the Skilak Lake area, it burned the duff layer away, exposing root systems and making trees very vulnerable to collapse.

People who see smoke or other fire activity are welcome to call it in to the Division of Forestry, but Quiner said they should not enter the area or attempt to put it out themselves.

“The main thing is the hazard from the falling trees,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to get hurt in there.”

Repairing the bulldozer lines is just part of a larger restoration plan put together by personnel at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

“The need to do this is based on our goals of minimizing impacts of activities involved with controlling and suppressing the fire to return conditions … as naturally as they can be,” said Refuge Manager Andy Loranger. “The plan is being followed. There’s a little bit more than half to go.”

Quiner said two to three local Soldotna firefighters are working to repair the lines at this point.

Repairing bulldozer lines means pulling the trees, brush, soil and other vegetation from where it was displaced back into its original spot.

“What we’re trying to do is put it back together,” Loranger said. “In some instances, they’re able to actually move pretty intact pieces of that ground layer … back into place.”

From there, Quiner said the forest will restore itself over time until there is little to no evidence of disruption.

“Generally, the forest will reseed itself,” he said. “Nature starts over again.”

Other repair efforts are focused on maintaining natural channels for water to prevent erosion and cleaning up the sites where firefighters camped.

Fire Prevention Officer Dan Govoni said the Card Street fire’s cause has not yet been identified, and that investigation is ongoing. He said there is no exact timeline for the investigation, and that the Division of Forestry is working with both state and federal agencies to uncover the cause.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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