The Swan Lake wildfire burns in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge as seen from the air Thursday, June 15, 2017 near Sterling, Alaska. The Alaska Division of Forestry estimated Thursday that the fire is 150 acres and burning 5-6 miles north of the Sterling Highway. (Photo courtesy Tim Mowry, Alaska Division of Forestry)

Firefighters respond to wildland fire near Sterling

1 p.m. Friday update:

The cause of the East Fork fire burning in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Sterling has been confirmed as dry lighting, according to Public Information Officer Celeste Prescott.

The fire is still hovering around 200 acres burning 5-6 miles north of the Sterling Highway. An aircraft is dumping water on the fire currently, and the refuge and Alaska Division of Forestry will also use two scooping water aircraft teams and a medium helicopter to shuttle people and drop water, Prescott said. The blaze is still being monitored.

The 20 personnel fighting the fire are focusing on the southwest corner to make sure the fire does not move near people. It is burning in a limited suppression area of the refuge. More crews have also been ordered, Prescott said.

There is also a temporary flight restriction in place in the area over the fire.

11 a.m. Friday update:

Members of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Alaska Division of Forestry are continuing to monitor a small fire burning in the refuge near Sterling.

The approximately 200 -acre East Fork fire has not changed much since last night, said Park Ranger Leah Eskelin. She said the refuge is expecting the arrival of some water scooping aircraft to help secure the southwest corner of the fire, which is burning about 5-6 miles north of the Sterling Highway. There is a chance recreational access to Skilak Lake could be limited when the aircraft arrive, as they will most likely use that lake for water, she said.

The refuge is working off the assumption that the fire was lightning caused based on the information it has from responding personnel, Eskelin said. However, Tim Mowry with the Alaska Division of Forestry said Thursday evening that the fire’s cause has not yet been confirmed.

Other than 19 personnel, 16 of which are smoke jumpers, working to curb the southwest corner of the fire, no suppression efforts are being made at this time, Eskelin said. The blaze is in a limited suppression area, she said.

“We recognize that human safety (comes) first, and after that, fire has a natural place in the landscape,” Eskelin said.

Refuge and Division of Forestry personnel are continuing to monitor the fire, she said.

“This area hasn’t burned in a very long time,” she said.

Eskelin also said that, given how much lightning was observed to strike in the area on Thursday, residents should not hesitate to report other smoke if they see it to 907-260-4100.

8 a.m. Friday update:

The fire burning in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, now being called the East Fork fire, was last estimated to be about 198 acres, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

It was discovered at 6:25 p.m. Thursday and has cost just over $50,000 to date, according to data from the center.

A small fire was also dealt with Thursday night off of East End Road in Homer. The Wilderness fire was only 1 acre, according to the coordination center. Members of the Alaska Division of Forestry and Kachemak Emergency Services brought that fire under control on Thursday, according to a Facebook post by the Division of Forestry.

Update:

The Swan Lake fire is estimated to be about 150 acres, according to Tim Mowry of the Alaska Division of Forestry.

It is 5-6 miles north of the Sterling Highway burning in a limited protection area of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

“The cause is unknown at this time,” Mowry said.

A Forestry helicopter will drop 5-6 firefighters to secure the fire’s southwest corner, he said, but no other action is being taken until refuge staff decide how to proceed. Forestry and the refuge are coordinating, Mowry said.

The fire was not moving toward the highway as of Thursday evening.

Original Story:

Firefighters are responding to a wildland fire in the Sterling area believed to have been caused by a lightning strike.

Firefighters responded to an area at about Mile 76 of the Sterling Highway, near Three Johns Road just before 7 p.m. Wednesday. A large column of smoke could be seen rising above the trees.

This is a breaking story. More information will be posted as it becomes available.

Smoke rises above the trees about a mile from Three Johns Road in Sterling Thursday evening. Firefighters are responding to a fire, believed to have been caused by a lightning strike, near Mile 76 of the Sterling Highway. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion)

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