Light rains beginning Friday night and continuing into the weekend offered much-needed relief for the firefighters battling the Swan Lake Fire.
A low-pressure weather storm system arrived over the area late Friday afternoon and some areas of the fire received about 1/4-inch of rain on Friday night, according to the latest update from the Great Basin Incident Management Team. Intermittent light rain and cooler temperatures are expected Saturday with rainfall and wind conditions intensifying on Sunday.
Saturday’s operations were largely a continuation of Friday’s activities. Cooler, moister conditions though the weekend are expected to reduce fire activity and boost progress.
Travel delays are to be expected along the Sterling Highway between Sterling and the Seward Highway junction. Fire has weakened trees along the roadway, and increased winds present an imminent hazard. Both lanes are open with pilot car operations in place, and the Kenai Peninsula Borough said that increased traffic is likely over Labor Day weekend.
The rain is expected to reduce the burn potential for some lighter fuels and limit rapid surface spread. Larger fuels will likely not be dramatically affected, and on Friday night personnel observed at least one tree burning in the rain.
The Swan Lake Fire is currently at 162,179 acres in size and is staffed by 751 personnel.
Around Cooper Landing, moderate fire activity was observed Friday morning, but that activity was diminished in the afternoon by smoke and cloud cover. Structure protection groups and local fire department personnel continued preparing homes and developed areas to withstand a fire advance should it occur. The remainder of the personnel and resources assigned to the east side of the fire focused on further reinforcing and mopping up lines within the fire’s existing perimeter.
Cooper Landing remains in a “SET” status, which is not a notice to evacuate but a notice to have all preparations in place in the event an evacuation is warranted. Those who feel they need more time to evacuate should do so before an evacuation notice is issued.
Crews continued to extend containment lines and reduce fuels around three cabins along the Resurrection Pass Trail on Saturday. Single-engine air tankers assisted crews on the ground with water drops in that area as well as the area of fire activity south of the Kenai River for much of the afternoon.
On the west side of the fire near Sterling, firefighters continued reinforcing the established containment lines along the highway. A contingent of personnel also began identifying and cutting fire-weakened trees on the Sterling Highway and Skilak Lake Road that could present hazards to motorists.
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Chugach National Forest have issued comprehensive area closures for public lands surrounding and including the Swan Lake Fire. A map of the closures can be found at kpboem.com, the website for the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Office of Emergency Management.
The latest smoke outlook for the area shows improved air quality conditions due to rain showers and decreased fire activity. Easterly winds will continue to push smoke to the western side of the peninsula towards Sterling, Soldotna and Kenai.
There is a temporary flight restriction in place in the area of the Swan Lake Fire. The TFR includes unmanned Aircraft Systems, or drones. Flying drones near wildfires could cause injury or death to firefighters as a result of mid-air collisions with tactical firefighting aircraft.