A map shows the Caribou Lake Fire, in red, in relationship to nearby communities and cabins. It was part of a community meeting held on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019, at a McNeil Canyon Elementary School near Fritz Creek, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

A map shows the Caribou Lake Fire, in red, in relationship to nearby communities and cabins. It was part of a community meeting held on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019, at a McNeil Canyon Elementary School near Fritz Creek, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Firefighters making progess on Caribou Lake Fire

With the Caribou Lake Fire now estimated at 900 acres and 20% contained, better weather conditions have made officials optimistic about progress in stopping it. The fire increased about 5 acres on Saturday, but hasn’t grown since then.

“With the cooler and cloudier weather we had yesterday, without any high winds, we’re really being able to strengthen those control lines. We should be able to see containment increase,” said Sarah Saarloos, a public information officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry, on Monday. “… It’s been holding at that 900-acre footprint for 24 hours. That means the control lines are working. Aviation has been able to keep it from growing.”

Sunday morning in an update, the Division of Forestry announced that firefighters got the 59-acre North Fork Fire 100% contained on Saturday evening. Unless significant changes occur, there will be no more updates on the North Fork Fire.

On Saturday, two more crews arrived at the Caribou Lake Fire. On Sunday, firefighters set up a helispot, or helicopter landing area, in a gravel pit on Basargin Road several miles down East End Road outside of Homer. Trucks haul supplies and crew to the gravel pit and helicopters then shuttle them to the Caribou Lake Fire scene. On Sunday afternoon, more firefighters and supplies were flown in. Officials ask that people avoid parking in the area for the safety of firefighters and the public. The helispot has been marked, but helicopters and crews don’t stay there overnight.

A temporary flight restrictions has been placed over the Caribou Lake Fire area. That includes prohibitions against flying drones and unmanned aircraft.

At a community meeting on Saturday, Aug. 24, at McNeil Canyon Elementary School, some hunters told officials they used the gravel pit as a staging area for the upcoming hunting season starting Sept. 1. Saarloos said that as it gets closer to opening day, officials will re-evaluate potential conflicts between hunters and the helicopter landing area and put out more messages about managing the area.

Fire officials ask that hunters avoid the trails around the Caribou Lake Fire area.

“Give us the time and the space,” Saarloos said. “We have over 80 firefighters out there. We want them to have safe space and work hard and not do public safety management and let them concentrate on their jobs.”

About 80 firefighters are on scene, including volunteers and staff from Kachemak Emergency Services. The Great Basin Incident Management Team 1 from the Lower 48 arrived over the weekend to help relieve Division of Forestry and other crews stretched thin by fighting major fires on the Kenai Peninsula and in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Information bulletin boards have been set up at the Kachemak Emergency Services McNeil Canyon Fire Station, at 53048 Ashwood Ave. near Mile 12 East End Road, at the Basargin Road gravel pit, at local Homer and Fritz Creek businesses, and online at https://akfireinfo.com.

The Kachemak Bay area received spotty rain on Sunday and Monday, but wetting rains are unlikely. According to the latest fire update, the weather outlook calls for cloud cover to increase and persist through Monday night. The wind direction will shift back to the north but remain calm for the next several days.

Temperatures will remain in the mid-60s through the week.

Also on Monday, Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige announced that Alaska’s statutory wildfire season has been extended from Aug. 31 to Sept. 30. That means small- and large-scale burn permits will be required for the use of open debris burning or burn barrels through Sept. 30. However, under an emergency burn closure, all open burning remains prohibited for the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral Alaska. That includes warming fires, camp fires and the use of charcoal grills on state, private, municipal and borough lands. Devices that can be turned off, such as propane grills or backpacking stove, are allowed, but users are urged to be cautious.

The latest road advisory for Miles 53-71 on the Sterling Highway asks motorists not to drive on Monday. The highway is open with pilot cars. If people are driving that section of highway, they are asked to not stop or pull out of line. Firefighters are working the fire as it moves through the right of ways. Expect long delays if traveling. For more information, visit www.kpboem.com or call 907-262-INFO (262-4636).

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation also issued a smoke advisory on Monday. Smoke from the Swan Lake Fire will impact most Kenai Peninsula communities, with air quality varying between good and hazardous depending on wind flow and proximity to the fire. For more information, visit http://smoke.alaska.edu/PM25.html.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.

Kachemak Emergency Services Chief Bob Cicciarella provides an update on the North Fork and Caribou Lake fires on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019, at a community meeting at McNeil Canyon Elementary School near Fritz Creek, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Kachemak Emergency Services Chief Bob Cicciarella provides an update on the North Fork and Caribou Lake fires on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019, at a community meeting at McNeil Canyon Elementary School near Fritz Creek, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

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