A photo of the Tustumena Lake Fire taken at 11 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5, 2019, illustrates the effect retardant and water drops had on the fire. (Photo by Jason Jordet/Alaska Division of Forestry)

A photo of the Tustumena Lake Fire taken at 11 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5, 2019, illustrates the effect retardant and water drops had on the fire. (Photo by Jason Jordet/Alaska Division of Forestry)

Peninsula fire grows to 2,400 acres

The Swan Lake Fire is about 70% active and spreading

A peninsula wildfire sparked by lightning last Wednesday has reached 2,400 acres in size — or about 4 square miles.

The Swan Lake Fire is about 70% active and is spreading from both the head of the fire as well as flanking outward from the side, Public Information Officer Andy Alexandrau with the Division of Forestry said.

The fire is located about 3 miles north of the Sterling Highway, but Alexandrau said the fire “would have to move many more miles” before it threatened any infrastructure or populated areas. A Type-3 Response Team from the Office of Emergency Management is currently determining the best response to the fire, while also attacking it indirectly — digging fire lines and creating other natural breaks in order to prevent it from spreading further.

Alexandrau said that Swan Lake is one of nine active wildfires on the peninsula, with two caused by human activity and the other seven caused by lightning. Alexandrau said that this year has already seen an unusually high number of lightning-caused fires. The vast majority of fires on the peninsula — over 90% — are caused by human activity every year.

“It’s very unusual to have lightning at all on the peninsula,” Alexandrau said.

The fires have prompted the Division of Forestry to issue a smoke advisory warning for the Sterling Highway from Mile 65 to Mile 70 between Sterling and Cooper Landing. Use caution when driving along the highway and expect low visibility in this area, as well as in parts of Sterling and Soldotna.

The Coal Creek Fire northwest of Tustumena Lake is the only other fire currently being staffed, and a crew of 26 is working to suppress the fire from the ground and the air. Alexandrau said that the Coal Creek Fire was about 60% contained as of Monday night and is 1.3 acres in size. Crews are mainly working to clear the area of downed and dead trees that are the remnants of the 2014 Funny River Fire, which encompassed 67,00 acres, or roughly 104 square miles.

Two human-caused fires were reported on Monday, and Alexandrau said that both were contained and controlled as of Tuesday morning. One was a small unattended campfire located behind the Hutchings Auto Spa in Soldotna, and one was an unattended debris fire near the Duck Inn on Kalifornsky Beach Road.

While there is currently no burn ban in effect on the peninsula, Alexandrau cautioned that since several peninsula waterways will be opened for sportfishing this week there will be increased traffic and congestion on the peninsula and potentially a higher risk for human-caused fires.

“With everyone enjoying the summer and smoke conditions being what they are, it’s more important than ever to make sure barbecues and campfires are put out,” Alexandrau said.

The interagency coordination website, which typically provides the latest info on fires from a number of agencies across Alaska, was down as of mid-afternoon Tuesday. Until the issue is resolved, people can call Alexandrau at 907-260-4262 or Kenai Refuge Park Ranger Leah Eskelin at 907-252-9852 for the latest information on all the active wildfires on the peninsula.

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