A wind shift to the southeast sent dense smoke to communities on the western side of the peninsula Wednesday, including Kenai, Soldotna, Nikiski and Sterling.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation issued an air quality advisory in the morning for the peninsula that anticipated “unhealthy” with periods of “very unhealthy” air quality for Soldotna Wednesday, with “unhealthy” conditions forecast for Thursday.
Wednesday afternoon the winds shifted to the west, bringing heavy smoke back to Cooper Landing — which was projected to have “unhealthy” to “hazardous” air quality due to proximity to the fire Wednesday and Thursday, according to the advisory.
People should avoid prolonged outdoor activities, especially children, the elderly and those with existing health conditions when air quality reaches “unhealthy.” Everyone should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion when conditions reach “very unhealthy,” and avoid any outdoor activities when conditions become “hazardous.”
As wind patterns shifted on the peninsula, fire crews from the Great Basin Incident Management Team began addressing additional areas along the Swan Lake Fire’s perimeter.
In a 9 a.m. live update Wednesday morning, Operations Section Chief Jeff Surber laid out the plans for the day and the areas of the fire’s perimeter that will be the focus of the day’s operations. The latest mapping of the fire puts it at 160,033 acres.
Surber said that crews have begun monitoring the northwestern perimeter of the fire by air to keep an eye out for any fire growth in that area.
Crews stationed along the western perimeter of the fire are continuing to reinforce the western control line, and the fire has not grown any closer to Sterling since the control line was established. Surber said that crews in the area and infrared flights are reporting less and less heat in the area every day.
A large column of smoke originating near the Hidden Lake Campground was visible from the Sterling Highway Tuesday. In response to this activity, crews conducted aerial water drops and constructed dozer lines near the campground. Structure protection tools, including pump and sprinkler systems, are in place at Kelly Lake, Engineer Lake and Upper Ohmer cabins, as well as the Skilak Guard Station and the Hidden Lake Pavilion.
To the east of the campground, crews have completed mop up efforts and constructed a dozer line from Skilak Lake Road south to the Kenai River. Surber said that no advancement is predicted in this area.
Along the fire’s southeastern perimeter, four crews are pushing the containment line further into areas of lighter fuel near Surprise Creek in an effort to limit the fire’s growth toward Cooper Landing from the south side of the highway.
As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, Cooper Landing remained in level 2 “SET” mode, which is not an order to evacuate but advises that residents should make all the preparations necessary to evacuate if the situation calls for it. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District announced Wednesday night that school for Cooper Landing K-12 students would be closed until Monday, Sept. 3 at the earliest.
The Sterling Highway remained open Wednesday afternoon, with one lane and pilot cars between Mile 40 and 71. OEM reported delays of up to three or four hours and advised motorists to be prepared with water and food.
On Monday night, the fire crossed the Resurrection Pass Trail into Slaughter Ridge, prompting the OEM to put Cooper Landing in “SET” status. Crews are working from Trout Lake to combat the parts of the fire that crossed that containment line along Resurrection Pass Trail, but smoke conditions on Wednesday prohibited aerial resources from being used.
A swing shift crew working from 10 a.m. to midnight will create an additional contingency line north of Cooper Landing to limit the potential of the fire spreading south from its current location near Slaughter Ridge.
Structure protection crews continued to work within the community of Cooper Landing by installing sprinklers and hose lines around homes and businesses. In addition, a night-shift crew consisting of four fire engines will conduct patrols along the Sterling Highway to keep an eye out for any new fire behavior.
Active fire behavior remains likely until there is a significant change in the weather pattern. A low-pressure weather pattern could come into the area this weekend, which would bring cooler temperatures and precipitation as early as Friday night. Precipitation on and off is possible through the middle of next week. For the latest information on fire activity, visit kpboem.com or call the borough’s call center at 907-262-INFO (4636).