Smoke from the Swan Lake Fire impairs visibility on the Sterling Highway on Aug. 20, 2019. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Smoke from the Swan Lake Fire impairs visibility on the Sterling Highway on Aug. 20, 2019. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Mayor declares emergency disaster

Declaration cites Swan Lake Fire near Sterling as threatening severe damage to life and property.

Several fires burning on the peninsula have prompted Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce to declare a disaster emergency for the borough.

“The severity and magnitude of these fires is beyond the authority and capacity of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, a second class borough of the State of Alaska, to provide effective response,” the declaration said.

Signed Wednesday, the declaration cites the largest fire, the Swan Lake Fire near Sterling as threatening severe damage to life and property.

The fire ignited June 5 after lightning struck in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge area near Sterling. It has continued to burn since and is estimated to be over 140,000 acres.

The declaration said the fire has caused and is still causing multiple closures of the Sterling Highway, the one road motorists are able to access much of the peninsula. The road closures and delays have significant impacts to transportation for individuals, businesses and of commodities to and from communities, the document said.

The small community of Cooper Landing and its neighboring recreational areas have impacted by heavy smoke, with air quality measuring between very unhealthy and hazardous. The community has also suffered major transportation disruptions.

Local tourism and businesses, especially in the Cooper Landing area have also seen negative impacts and major disruptions, according to the declaration.

Aug. 18 another fire broke out near Anchor Point, which is estimated to be around 59 acres. In his declaration, Pierce said the North Fork Fire also threatens severe damage to property and life.

Aug. 19, another fire started near Homer’s East End Road. The Caribou Lakes Fire was estimated to be 100 acres earlier this week, but grew over 600 acres between Tuesday and Wednesday. Pierce said the fire is threatening severe damage to recreational structures in the area.

Because of the three fires, Level 1 evacuation notices have been sent to some residents in residents in Sterling, Cooper Landing, Diamond Ridge and Anchor Point.

Pierce said the borough has expended significant resources in coordinating with the state to assist in the fire response.

The disaster declaration requests Gov. Mike Dunleavy to declare a disaster emergency to exist, which would allow for disaster assistance to the Kenai Peninsula by making available resources as needed in the ongoing response. The declaration may also provide individual assistance for affected property owners with property that was damaged as a result of the fires.

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