The Swan Lake Fire showed little growth overnight Wednesday, but heavy smoke continued to affect operations Thursday.
Helicopters were unable to fly on the eastern flank of the fire in the Resurrection Trail area Thursday, but an unmanned drone was used to assess the effectiveness of burnout operations in the south central area of the fire above Skilak Lake, according to a Thursday afternoon update from the Office of Emergency Management.
As of Thursday morning, the fire measured 161,921 acres.
The incident management team reported Thursday that an additional strike team consisting of four engines and a hotshot crew were slated to work from 10 a.m. to midnight around Cooper Landing to bolster available resources during the hours when fire growth has been most active. They will join other crews in the area to reduce hazardous fuels around structures, install water sprinklers and protect the power line corridor.
The most active portion of the fire on Wednesday was located on the eastern flank in the Juneau Creek drainage. The fire slowly moved downslope to the south as well as up-valley to the north on the Resurrection Trail. According to the update, this growth does not present immediate concern for Cooper Landing, but fire managers are evaluating strategies that will limit further spread. Thursday, three crews hiked up the drainage to begin constructing new containment lines.
Cooper Landing remained in a “SET” status as of Thursday evening due to the proximity of the fire. All residents should be fully prepared to evacuate if the situation warrants. Residents who are uncomfortable or feel they need more time should consider leaving before an evacuation notice. Cooper Landing School will be closed until Tuesday, Sept. 3 at the earliest, according to a Wednesday night update from the borough school district.
The southwestern corner of the fire near Sterling experienced increased activity inside the containment lines. Work continued on Thursday to cool the area and further secure the perimeter by extinguishing any remaining burning or smoldering fuels adjacent to the containment lines. Structure protection on the western flank is effectively in place, and the fire has not spread past the containment line since it was established.
The Sterling neighborhoods east of Feuding Lane and east of Adkins Road remain in a “READY” status. A “READY” notification means that residents should actively prepare for a potential evacuation should the threat level increase.
A high-pressure system will remain on top of the fire for the next day, leading to light winds, warm temperatures and low humidity. A low-pressure storm system is approaching from the southwest that is expected to bring some precipitation Friday and Saturday night.
Incident Meteorologist Jeff Tonkin said during the community meeting in Cooper Landing Wednesday night that he expects about half an inch of rain on Friday night and another half an inch on Saturday night. Gusty winds are predicted for Sunday afternoon. Fire suppression activities and dense smoke conditions have made travel on the Sterling Highway between Sterling and Cooper Landing hazardous, and authorities are discouraging travel on that part of the highway. Those who choose to travel through the fire area should be prepared for delays of up to three hours and should make sure they have plenty of fuel, food and water. Motorists should not stop along the highway within the fire area.
As of Thursday afternoon, there were checkpoints at Mile 40, Mile 53 and Mile 71, with vehicles coming from Anchorage or Seward stopped at Mile 40 to wait for a pilot car. Wait times were expected at between 40 minutes to several hours.
Placards for those with homes or cabins in Cooper Landing are available at the Cooper Landing Volunteer Fire Department. After picking up the placard, residents should display them clearly on the dashboard of their vehicle. The placard is to be used when approaching Cooper Landing from the east so that pilot cars at Mile 40 can more easily identify Cooper Landing residents and get them to the community safely.
The National Weather Service issued a dense smoke advisory Thursday, effective until 1 p.m. Friday for the interior Kenai Peninsula, including the Sterling and Cooper Landing highway corridor.
An Air Quality Advisory was issued by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation on Wednesday and remains in effect through Friday.
The Color Run in Kenai was scheduled for this Saturday but has been postponed due to the heavy smoke. The new date is Saturday, Sept. 28 at Soldotna Creek Park. Registration will begin at 11:30 a.m. and the race will start at noon.
DEC air quality advisories can be found at http://dec.alaska.gov/Applications/Air/airtoolsweb/Advisories/.
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and the Chugach National Forest have issued additional closures in response to the fire. The closures on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and the Chugach National Forest have been issued for all public lands surrounding and including the burned area. For a map and a comprehensive list of closures, visit kpboem.com.
A temporary flight restriction remains in place over the Swan Lake Fire. The TFR includes drones. Flying drones near wildfires could cause injury or death to firefighters as a result of a mid-air collision with tactical firefighting aircraft.
A community meeting will be held at the Sterling Community Center on Friday at 6 p.m. to discuss the fire and current operations with the incident management team and the borough’s Office of Emergency Management.
For the latest information on the fire, visit kpboem.com or call 208-391-3488.