This map, issued Sunday, June 18, 2017 by the Alaska Division of Forestry shows the area burned by the East Fork Fire near Sterling, Alaska. (Photo courtesy the Alaska Division of Forestry)

East Fork Fire grows to 1,300 acres

The East Fork Fire on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge has grown to more than 1,300 acres, but is still headed away from infrastructure.

The fire, sparked Thursday by dry lightning on the refuge northeast of Sterling, has grown from an initial approximately 200 acres to about 1,300 as of Saturday evening at 8 p.m. Firefighters quickly got the western and southern edges of the fire under control, preventing it from crossing the approximately 3.5 miles to the nearest residential area of Sterling or the Sterling Highway approximately 4.5 miles to the south. They are still focusing on those two perimeters while coordinating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage the fire for ecological benefits to the forest, said Alaska Division of Forestry Pubic Information Officer Celeste Prescott.

The western perimeter particularly burned well, and firefighters on Sunday were physically checking the burned areas for remaining embers in a process known as cold trailing, she said.

“They’re going to go and put their hands along the ground and make sure there’s no smoke, no heat, nothing,” she said. “… We’re making really good progress on that.”

There are currently about 118 firefighters working on the blaze, including four crews that came from other areas of the state. Two water-scooping planes stationed at the Soldotna airport are still assigned to the fire, with three helicopters assisting with bucket drops, personnel shuttles and supply loads, and other tankers are available in the state if needed.

Though weather systems dumped rain and hail on parts of the central peninsula on Thursday and Friday, the blaze area hasn’t gotten any significant rain, Prescott said. The weather Sunday was expected to be cooler with higher humidity, though the weather can be predictable, Prescott said.

“I’ve seen everything from warming back up to getting rain (with higher humidity),” she said.

Part of the strategy is to allow the fire to burn naturally in that part of the refuge to consume some trees in an area that has not burned in a long time, as previously reported by the Clarion.

The public is asked to avoid crews working on the fire in the area and to be aware of aircraft potentially scooping water out of Skilak Lake. There is also a temporary flight restriction on the area and pilots should check with the Federal Aviation Administration before flying in the area.

The Alaska Division of Forestry, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and the Kenai Peninsula Borough will host a meeting at the Sterling Community Center at 6 p.m. Monday to update the public on current fire activity and management strategies, according to a Sunday release from the Division of Forestry .

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

Smoke rises from the burn area of the East Fork Fire on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Friday, June 16, 2017 near Sterling, Alaska. The fire, sparked by dry lightning, had burned about 850 acres by Friday night. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

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