Evacuation lifted for Funny River Road Tuesday

  • Thursday, May 22, 2014 11:06am
  • News

Updated at 2:45 p.m. Tuesday:

Rob Allen, incident commander with the Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team said today’s rain has helped firefighters, but crews need three days of steady precipitation for it to have a major impact on the Funny River Road wildfire.

Michelle Weston, public information officer with the Alaska IMT, said five structures have been lost to the fire. One was a private cabin and one was a Department of Natural Resources cabin — Wally’s Cabin. Two were natural conservatory cabins and one was an outbuilding. The outbuilding was on the same property as a Kenai Keys area home. The home was saved.

Most recent mapping shows the fire at 182,209 acres or about 285 square miles. About 690 personnel are on assigned to the blaze.

May 25 was the biggest day for the fire with an acreage increase of 32,400.

Allen said the wildfire is currently the No. 1 priority fire in the nation.

Updated at 10:11 a.m. Tuesday:

The evacuation of Funny River Road has been lifted as of 9 a.m. Tuesday.

The evacuation advisory for residents on Kenai Keys Road and Feuding Lane has also been lifted Tuesday morning, said Brenda Ahlberg with the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

The Red Cross shelters set up at Redoubt Elementary School and Sterling Elementary School will close today.

Sue Thornton, Red Cross shelter manager at Redoubt Elementary said nine people stayed at the shelter overnight.

The Funny River Road wildfire is up to 182,009 acres with 30 percent containment, but no homes have been lost in the fire, according to fire officials.

Community meetings are scheduled Tuesday for residents to learn more about current fire suppression activities. Meetings will be at Tustumena School in Kasilof at 6 p.m. and at Soldotna High School at 8 p.m.

Updated at 12:55 p.m. Monday:

According to the borough’s Office of Emergency Management, the Kasilof Evacuation advisory has been lifted for the Sterling Highway Miles 103-109 area. Emergency managers remind residents to remain vigilant and ready should the advisory be put back in place. Visit www.ready.gov for preparedness tips and suggested packing list.

Funny River Road remains closed. 

Updated at 12:25 p.m. Monday:

The American Red Cross of Alaska has opened a second emergency shelter at Sterling Elementary School on the Sterling Highway to help those people who have been evacuated from their homes and directly affected by the wildfire on the Kenai Peninsula. Red Cross disaster workers are setting up a safe place to stay, offering something to drink and food to eat for those impacted.

A shelter also was opened at Redoubt Elementary School, 486 West Redoubt Avenue in Soldotna, on Sunday night.

Residents impacted by the wildfire are urged to come to a Red Cross shelter. The Red Cross will keep this shelter open and add new shelters as needed.

Anyone planning to stay in a Red Cross shelter should bring prescription medications, extra clothing, pillows, blankets, hygiene supplies, important documents and other comfort items. Don’t forget to bring any special items for children, such as diapers, formula and toys, and family members who have unique needs. 

Red Cross emergency shelters cannot accept pets unless they are service animals.

Updated at 12:15 p.m. Monday:

Firefighters were challenged along the northern edge of the Funny River Horse Trail fire Sunday afternoon, but also made good progress along the western edge of the fire near Kasilof.

As off 11 p.m. Sunday, the fire was mapped at 158,585 acres. Containment was estimated at 30 percent Monday morning. 

An evacuation for Funny River Road remains in effect as of Monday morning while fire personnel continue to assess the situation, according to James Schwarber, a public information officer with the Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team.

Schwarber said fire lines along Funny River Road were briefly breached Sunday afternoon, but were held. 

Firefighters are continuing to work on containment lines today, and are still working to confirm whether any structures had been damaged or lost in the area.

The fire did jump across the Kenai River Sunday afternoon in the Torpedo Lake area, about 5 miles below the outlet of Skilak Lake. Fire crews also worked to prevent spot fires from advancing toward the Kenai Keys area near Sterling. Schwarber said three structures were damaged in the Kenai Keys area — the roof of a mobile home patially burned, and two decks were damaged. 

On the western flank of the fire, near Kasilof, Schwarber said firefighters made good progress containing the blaze on Sunday. Firefighters were able to add 7 to 8 miles to the containment line there, Schwarber said. 

The fire has burned past the Bear Creek subdivision along the northern shore of Tustumena Lake; structures there are no longer threatened. Cabins at Pipe Creek and at Harvey Lake, both to the east of the fire, are receiving attention from fire crews.

Updated at 8:41 p.m. Sunday

The temporary Red Cross shelter at Redoubt Elementary School is open. Limited food service will be provided by XTO Energy, according to the Borough Office of Emergency Management. 

Updated at 7 p.m. Sunday:

The American Red Cross is setting up a temporary shelter at Redoubt Elementary School in Soldotna. The Shelter is not open yet, the Borough Office of Emergency Management said. According to OEM, evacuees should bring these items to the shelter: prescriptions and emergency medications, food, extra clothing, pillows, blankets, hygiene supplies and supplies for childcare or elderly or disabled family members. OEM said evacuees should also let relatives know where and how they are.

Updated at 6:20 p.m. Sunday:

The Borough Office of Emergency Management  has issued an evacuation advisory from the end of Feuding Lane to the end of Kenai Keys Road. The American Red Cross is working to set-up a temporary shelter for evacuees. The Clarion will update when a location is confirmed. The Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team has confirmed the fire has spotted across the Kenai River into the Kenai Keys area and crews are working to suppress those fires. According to OEM, Central Emergency Services responded to a house fire in that area. 

Updated at 4:45 p.m. Sunday:

The Borough Office of Emergency Management is asking residents living on both sides of Funny River Road from Mile 7 to Fisherman’s Road to evacuate now. Residents are asked to check in at the Soldotna Sports Center. 

Updated at 3:45 p.m. Sunday:

The evacuation order for Funny River Road residents has been extended and now includes the area from Mile 11 (Tachik Avenue) to the end of Funny River Road. The evacuation is precautionary due to increased wildfire activity in the area.

Updated at 3:10 p.m. Sunday:

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management is clarifying that the evacuation order is for residents along Funny River Road beween Tachick Avenue and Rabbit Run Road. The Borough OEM says residents are being notified by phone, fire personnel going door-to-door and with radio updates.

Updated at 2:45 p.m. Sunday:

The Alaska Interagency Incident Command Team has ordered an evacuation of the Funny River Road residents from Mile 7 to the end. The evacuation is precautionary due to increased fire activity along Funny River Road. 

Evacuees are advised go to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

During a media briefing this afternoon officials said the fire made two runs at the road Saturday night. Additional crews were sent to Funny River Road today in an effort to secure the area.

Updated at 10:45 a.m. Sunday

A fire break that follows a line about a one-quarter mile behind several homes in the Funny River flared up and was breached temporarily Saturday. It is now holding against the 123,649 acre Funny River Horse Trail wildfire Sunday.

The Funny River burnout is one of three containment lines crews have built to protect the Funny River community, Kasilof and the remote Bear Creek subdivision as they work to keep the wildfire burning further east into the 1.92 million acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Crews will continue reinforcing the Funny River line Sunday and Central Emergency Services health and safety officer Brad Nelson said Funny River residents should expect to see continued activity along the line.

Several residents of the Funny River neighborhood were startled by the visible flames and heat so close to their homes.

Lisa Renken was loading a reluctant horse into a trailer Saturday evening after she said firefighters told her that if the fire break didn’t hold the flames would reach their neighborhood within ten minutes.

“It’s pretty darn close,” Nelson said.

Many who saw the breach and flare up of flames along Lake Road Saturday thought the fire line had been jumped, Nelson said.

“This is one of those semantics things, but a the fire did not cross the fuel line.  When they say it crossed the line, that means that it crossed and is continuing to burn in that direction. It did not. What people saw was a hot spot,” Nelson said. “There were little hot spots on the other side, but the crews are there putting it out.”

The Funny River fire line is a holdover from other wildfires that have burned in the region — it was used during the Shanta Creek wildfire in 2009, Nelson said. The line is easier to defend as it has already been pre-cut, he said.

“Instead of starting from scratch you’re starting into it, getting in there and just cleaning that up instead of starting from square one,” Nelson said.

Bulldozers anchored off near mile 7 of Funny River road may not have made it to the line yet but they are moving west to reach it and reinforce the firebreak, Nelson said.

The more than 1,063 homes in the Funny River community of Soldotna are still under an evacuation advisory — meaning people should be ready to leave.

The evacuation advisory has been expanded by Central Emergency Services to include an area from the Pollard Loop Subdivision on the Sterling Highway in Kasilof to the include the east side of the Sterling Highway up to Funny River Road and the south, or fire side, of Funny River road.

More than 320 homes in Kasilof are also covered under an evacuation advisory as firefighters work to secure the western edge of the wildfire where it parallels with the Sterling Highway.

The neighborhoods in Kasilof sit between the highway and the more than 10-mile-long western edge of the fire.

The bulk of the 20 percent containment of the Funny River wildfire is along the western edge, according to management team fire maps.

Two dozer crews, one working from the north end of the fire and another starting at the southern end near Tustumena lake, are working to extend the containment line along the western end of the wildfire — though work is slow, Nelson said.

“They’re getting into swampy, marshy, nasty, thick ground so, it’s slow; not from lack of work but from the terrain,” Nelson said. “Who knows how long it will take them to meet in the middle.”

The two crews have more than 10 miles of refuge land to cover before they would meet. 

With the addition of two Air National Guard Black Hawk helicopters to the fleet of firefighting crews Saturday, more than 450 personell are fighting the fire, Nelson said.

In the Bear Creek Subdivision where about 10 homes on the shore of Tustumena Lake have been threatened by the fire for three days, a series of burnout operations have successfully held the fire, according to a management team media release.

Updated at 5:30 p.m. Saturday: 

The Homer Electric Association is moving to ensure that Kenai Peninsula residents continue to get power as the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire continues to expand.

Two transmission lines between Kasilof and Soldotna have been threatened by the fire and as a precautionary stem, HEA de-energized one of the transmission lines on Thursday, according to a media release.

Before turning the line off, the company reconfigured its system so that the action would not interrupt service, according to the release.

That work required a brief outage in Soldotna at about 3 a.m. Saturday and power was restored by 3:11 a.m., according to the release.

HEA personnel did a flyby of its transmission lines Saturday afternoon and found that the fire had burned across an area where one of the company’s transmission lines runs near Mile 107 of the Sterling Highway.

“From the air, it does not appear that there was any damage to the structure, but we really won’t be able to make that determination until we can get to the area and inspect the poles,” wrote HEA spokesperson Joe Gallagher in an email.

“Our system remains intact at this time and all our members have power,” he wrote. 


Updated at 2:10 p.m. Saturday:

According to the Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team, an evacuation advisory alert has been issued for the Funny River Community and the Kasilof community for those residents east of the highway. This is due to Red Flag wind warning Saturday afternoon and Saturday night. An alert means to get ready to evacuate and is not an evacuation order.

The evacuation advisory includes the east side (fire side) of the Sterling Highway from Kalifornsky Beach road at the Soldotna end, to Mile 109, which is the Kasilof Bridge. The advisory is also for all of Funny River Road from the airport East on the south of the road.

James Schwarber, public information officer for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources — Division of Forestry, said 329 homes in Kasilof and 1,063 in Funny River are included in the advisory. 

Brad Nelson, Central Emergency Services health and safety officer said residents will be notified through the Kenai Peninsula Rapid Notify system, or “reverse 911,” an Emergency Broadcast System alert over the radio and televesion, and in some cases workers through organizations such as the Alaska State Troopers will go door to door. 

Nelson said, once evacuated, residents of Kasilof should check in at the Tustumena Elementary School, 58231 Sterling Hwy in Kasilof, and Funny River residents at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, 538 Arena Ave., in Soldotna. 

Updated at 10:45 a.m. Saturday: 

As it has for the last four days the Funny River Horse Trail wildlfire has grown despite being about 20 percent contained according to the fire’s management team. As of 5 p.m. Friday, it had burned more than 96,500 acres.

An sudden overnight evacuation order issued by Central Emergency Services was rescinded after two hours early Saturday morning and the fire did not cross the Kasilof River as it was rumored to have done, according to the Alaska Interagency Management Team.    

The western edge of the fire became extremely active after a wind shift Friday and was “highly visible” for several miles, prompting the evacuation, according to a media release.

More than 400 people, five helicopters and four water scooping tankers are working to contain the blaze according to a management team media release.

Continued warm weather on the Kenai Peninsula have contributed to the dry conditions and the shifting and variable winds have helped the fire burn through the abundant black spruce and other hardwoods on the 1.92 million acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Firefighting crews continue to focus on protecting the Funny River community to the north and the Bear Creek subdivision to the southeast of the fire, according to the release.

Memorial day weekend visitors have been asked to be extremely careful as vegetation is still dry and officials are asking that people who want to view the fire pull off in designated areas along the highway rather than block roads.




Updated at 3:30 p.m. Friday:

All burning prohibited on Kenai Peninsula
Burn ban includes federal, state, private and municipal lands

Past and prevailing weather conditions have caused extremely dry and smoky conditions on the Kenai Peninsula. The Alaska Division of Forestry and the State Forester determined that it is necessary to prohibit the use of all open fires and activities which unduly increase the fire danger.

Effective immediately and continuing until further notice all cooking, warming, signaling fires or any type of fire (specifically covered under the burning permit regulations 11 AAC 95.400 – 11 AAC 95.490 and 11 AAC 95.900) are prohibited on Federal, State, private and municipal lands on the Kenai Peninsula Game Management Units 7 and 15. This includes the entire Kenai Peninsula.

Also included are the Chugach National Forest lands on the Kenai Peninsula, Kenai Fjords National Park and Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The term “open fires” refers to any flame source not immediately extinguishable or controllable and applies to any form of wood or charcoal-based fire, even in established fire rings. Gas grills, backpacking or camp stoves using fuel or compressed canisters which can be regulated and shut off are still permitted for use.

Wildland fire managers ask visitors and residents to follow the fire prohibitions and prevent additional fire starts.

Updated 2:10 p.m.

Kenai issues burn ban

Due to the current extreme fire conditions the City of Kenai has issued a Burn Ban effective immediately and until further notice, all open fires are prohibited. No burning will be allowed within the City limits of Kenai, this includes cooking and warming fires in addition the use of charcoal and/or personal charcoal grills is also prohibited. Cooking stoves and gas grills may be used.

Updated Friday at 1:50 p.m.:

Evacuation readiness advisory issued for Pollard subdivision

According to the Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team, the Pollard Subdivision in Kasilof is now under evacuation readiness advisory. Incident managers emphasize that this is not an evacuation order, but means residents should prepare as an evacuation request could be issued in the future.

Open fires, including campfires, prohibited in state parks, Chugach National Forest, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

In response to current extreme fire danger on the Kenai Peninsula, effective immediately and until further notice, all open fires are prohibited in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Kenai Peninsula State Parks and Chugach National Forest lands on the Kenai Peninsula.

This includes any and all camp fires, including the use of enclosed fire grates and rings in State Park and Refuge Campgrounds. Use of charcoal and/or personal charcoal grills is also prohibited. Cooking stoves and gas grills may be used.

All state park and refuge campgrounds on the Kenai Peninsula remain open.

Questions regarding this emergency restriction should be directed to:

— Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, 907-262-7021

— Kenai/Prince William Sound Area State Parks Office, 907-262-5581

— Chugach National Forest, 907-743-9500

Updated Friday at 9:15 a.m.:

The Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team is reporting that the Funny River fire moved in a southeast direction Thursday night along the north bank of Tustumena Lake toward Bear Creek Subdivision, a group of water-accessible cabins where 10 structures are threatened. Smoke jumpers were dispatched to assist with structure protection. Today, an additional fire crew from Oregon will join the smoke jumpers in Bear Creek.

Update Thursday 4:30 p.m.:

One by one, aerial support arrived Thursday to fight the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire that has inched closer to homes in Kasilof.

Presently, five helicopters, four CL215 water scoopers, and three air tankers are concentrating water drops on the southwest flank of the fire that is 3.5 miles east of the Pollard subdivision in Kasilof at last report.

Brad Nelson, health and safety officer with Central Emergency Services, said ground crews from Delta, the Mat-Su Valley and Fairbanks have joined in, and brought the total of firefighters to 168.

The Thursday evening the weather forecast calls for a north wind moving 15-20 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service; winds are supposed to slow Friday morning to 5-10 miles an hour. 

However, Friday evening the wind is forecasted to change direction and will be moving from the southwest, according to weather service data. While that would push the fire to the southeast, winds are supposed to blow at about 5 miles per hour. 

In the north near the origin of the fire, crews have made progress in corralling the fire and keeping it from crossing Funny River Road by creating a dozer line, he said.

On the southeast perimeter, the fire is 3 miles from Bear Creek where there are a group of cabins on Tustumena Lake. Fire crews are working to protect those cabins.

The Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team will hold two public meetings tonight. The first will be held at 6 p.m. at Tustumena Elementary School, 58231 Sterling Highway, Kasilof and the second will be held at 8 p.m. at the Funny River Community Center, 35850 Pioneer Access Road, Soldotna. Fire managers and emergency operations officials will discuss the firefighting efforts and public safety and will take questions.

Nelson said residents who have cleaned could drop off loose brush piles to all Kenai Peninsula Borough solid waste sites.

Homer Electric Association spokesperson Joe Gallagher said HEA personnel went up in a helicopter Thursday morning to check out the transmission lines along the Sterling Highway in Kasilof. He said at the closest point south of Reflection Lake, the fire is about two miles east from the lines that run parallel to the highway.

Gallagher said at this point in time, there is no disruption to service operations.

“We are monitoring the situation hour-by-hour and have been in constant communication with the incident management team,” he said. “Right now we have normal operations and will rely on information from the fire agencies and at that point make a decision.”

The Funny River wildfire has burned 44,423 acres within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge with 5 percent containment. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Updated at 10:15 a.m. Thursday: 

The Funny River wildfire is now 5 percent contained, said Brad Nelson, health and safety officer for Central Emergency Services.

CES crews worked through the night on multiple fronts to keep the fire from advancing toward Kasilof and Funny River Road.

Nelson said firefighters built a defensive line and back burned on Funny River Road to keep the fire at bay.

The winds have changes from the west to northern winds Thursday and have pushed the fire in a couple of different directions, he said. North winds have pushed the fire to the southeast.

While the morning smoke haze has limited visibility in the air and made mapping the fire difficult, Nelson said the clouds are expected to dissipate with rising temperatures.

The size of the wildfire is still officially more than 44,000 acres, he said. The wildfire has become a high priority around the entire nation, he said.

“Reinforcements have arrived with 150 boots on the ground and still more arriving every minute,” he said. “Several air attacks are active and as soon as the inversion lifts, full operations will continue.”

Two “ducks” or water scooping planes have arrived and will be able to drop water from Tustumena Lake on the blaze. Forestry officials have ordered five planes to assist in dropping water.

Nelson said crews have also been sent to protect the Bear Creek cabins on the eastern shore of Tustumena Lake.

Two community meetings are scheduled for later in the day Thursday. One at Tustumena Elementary School, 58231 Sterling Hwy in Kasilof at 6 p.m. The other meeting will be at the Funny River Community Center off of Funny River Road at 8 p.m.

Still no evacuations have been issued and more will be known about the size of the fire when a map is updated Thursday afternoon.

Updated at noon on Wednesday:

As central peninsula residents awoke Wednesday morning dense smoke and ash from the 20,000-acre large Funny River wildfire canvassed the area.

The Type 2 Incident Management Team with the Division of Forestry has taken over operations today. Incident Management public information spokesperson Michelle Weston, said there was a false rumor that the fire has jumped Funny River Road as of 11 a.m. She said the top priority is to secure the north flank at Mile 7 of Funny River Road. She said the road remains open for residents, but cautions them to drive slowly as fire crews access the area.

The size of the wildfire grew significantly overnight, but Weston said they don’t currently know how much. Maps will be updated later this afternoon. Crews are also prioritizing securing the western side of the fire and will use retardant to protect the Kasilof community. Air drops have stalled at the moment due to the smoke, which has reduced visibility, but will resume this afternoon, she said.

The National Weather Service for Wednesday afternoon has called for northwest winds at 4-8 mph. Weston said with winds from the west, the fire is predicted to move east further into the refuge. Residents of the Bear Creek subdivision have been contacted. While she doesn’t know how close the fire is to the subdivision without updated maps, she said last night the fire was 5 miles away from the subdivision.

Additional crews are currently being debriefed orders, but Weston said she did not have a count of how many people are working the fire.

The wildfire butted up against, but did not cross Funny River Road at about 1 a.m. Wednesday morning thanks in part to air support and an existing fuel break installed in 2009, said Andy Alexandrou, public information officer with the Division of Forestry.

Alexandrou said the water scooping planes have not yet arrived, but are expected today.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough will set up a hotline for calls and remind residents evacuation planning is in place and information can be found on their website. No evacuation orders have been issued, Weston said.

Information booths will be set up today at the Kasilof Mercantile Store and at the Soldotna Fred Meyer, Weston said.

Alexandrou said still no structures have been damaged by the fire, but the Nurses Cabin on Tustumena Lake came close. Fire burned right up to it, but it did not burn and is safe, he said.

The Type 2 Incident Management Team has set up a command post at Skyview High school and will send out an updated press release as more information is available.

For evacuation information visit: www.borough.kenai.ak.us/emergency-mgmt

Updated at 9:35 a.m. on Tuesday

A fire that began Monday on Funny River Road has burned more than seven miles of wildland south to the bank of Tustumena Lake Tuesday, forestry service officials said. 

Andy Alexandrou, public information officer for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources – Division of Forestry, said the fire has consumed more than 3,000 acres. 

“40 people are on it now,” he said Tuesday morning. 

The fire was likely human-caused, though it is unclear exactly how it started, he said. 

“It could have been a campfire, or an exhaust system from a recreational vehicle, we don’t know,” he said. 

The fire started near the Hansen Horse Trail, or Funny River Horse Trail, a popular recreation spot for hunters and hikers.

A new fire management team is scheduled to arrive at about 6 p.m. Tuesday, Alexandrou said. They’ll take over management of the fire, freeing up local resources to focus on other fires in the area. 

Currently the fire is burning more than seven miles long and about a mile wide — a long, narrow line typical of wind-drive fires, Alexandrou said.

Updated at 7:24 a.m. Tuesday 

A fire that began near Funny River Road in Soldotna has grown to nearly seven miles long and almost a mile wide, according to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources – Division of Forestry’s Facebook page. By 11 p.m. Monday the fire had consumed nearly 2,500 acres. Fire crews remained on the fire overnight – it has burned to an area about three miles from Tustumena Lake. 

Updated at 10:18 p.m. Monday:

A fire near that began near the Funny River Road Horse Trail, or Hansen’s Horse Trail, has consumed at least 960 acres of land and is still spreading. 

“I’m quite certain it’s well over 1,000 now,” said Andy Alexandrou, public information officer for the Division of Forestry. 

About 70 crew are battling the blaze and another management team will arrive Tuesday morning to take the fire over, Alexandrou said. 

The fire is not currently threatening any homes or habitated areas and there have been no evacuations ordered. It is still burning south toward Tustumena Lake, Alexandrou said. 

Updated at 5 p.m. Monday: 

Crews are currently battling an 80-acre blaze near the Funny River Road Horse Trail, located at Mile 7 of Funny River Road, as of Monday evening.

Firefighters from the Kenai area Division of Forestry and the Chena Interagency Hotshot crew are working the fire. Sam Harrel, Division of Forestry spokesperson, said the Gannett Glacier Fire Crew out of Palmer is en route.

The fire, which is moving south toward Tustumena Lake, was reported at 4:15 p.m. Monday.

As of 7:15 p.m., Harrel said no structures are at risk.

Due to the fire’s close proximity to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge water, instead of retardant is being used to fight the fire, Harrel said.

He said at least one helicopter is dumping water on scene. He is uncertain of how many ground units have responded because resources are moving between the Funny River fire and another fire near Tyonek on the west side of Cook Inlet.

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