Cooper Landing briefed on evacuation plans as fire grows

Control points will be established at Mile 71 near Watson Lake and Mile 53 near Resurrection trail.

The Swan Lake Fire grew by another 4,000 acres Friday night, and on Saturday the borough released details about their transportation and evacuation plans for the Sterling Highway.

During the community meeting in Cooper Landing Saturday night, Kenai Peninsula Borough Emergency Manager Dan Nelson laid out the borough’s plans for handling road closures and potential evacuations going forward. Nelson said during the meeting that for future traffic delays on the Sterling Highway, control points will be established at Mile 71 near Watson Lake and Mile 53 near the Resurrection Trailhead. These control points will use flaggers and nearby pullouts to allow people to turn around and prevent congestion in populated areas.

In the event that a closure is expected to last more than six hours, an additional control point will be established at the Sunrise Inn in Cooper Landing. This control point will allow local traffic coming into Cooper Landing from the east, but travelers coming into the area will be directed by state troopers and local law enforcement to either turn around or pull over to the highway’s shoulder in an attempt to minimize the congestion that has occurred in Cooper Landing during recent closures.

In the event that an evacuation is warranted, the Department of Transportation, with the assistance of Granite Construction, will make both lanes of the Sterling Highway move in one direction and establish turnarounds to assist drivers in adjusting to the new traffic pattern.

Public information officer Sarah Gracey said on Saturday that fire crews in the area of the Seven Lakes Trail south of the Sterling Highway initiated structure protection operations around public use cabins on Friday, as the fire made its way about 3 miles east from where it initially crossed the highway on the western side. The growth also prompted a temporary traffic delay on the highway Friday night so that aerial teams could perform water drops in the area.

A large column of smoke located about 1.5 miles south of the highway threatened to delay traffic again on Saturday, but the highway did remain open for the day. Further delays could still be possible, and motorists should check 511.Alaska.gov for the latest updates before traveling in the area.

Gracey said that hotshot crews will spend the weekend creating a buffer between the new growth and the highway to limit any future delays or closures. Clear skies have allowed the use of fixed-wing water drops in the area of new growth as well, and aerial crews are attempting to prevent the fire from spreading as far east as Hidden Creek.

A containment line has been established along the western perimeter of the fire, and the line continues to hold while being tested by windy conditions.

Along the eastern perimeter, crews are building containment lines in the Surprise Creek area to prevent the fire from spreading towards Cooper Landing. Gracey said that the recent flood advisory on the Kenai River has not impacted the team’s ability to cross the river and access Surprise Creek thanks to the assistance of local boat operators.

In addition, crews are establishing fuel breaks along the Fuller Lakes Trail and plumbing lines along the Slaughter Gulch and Resurrection Pass Trails. Structure protection crews are currently in Cooper Landing speaking with residents and assessing what measures are needed to prevent any loss to lives or property.

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