Swan Lake Fire causes heavy smoke conditions on peninsula

Blaze surpasses 77,000 acres

The Swan Lake Fire continues to blaze through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and, at various times since first starting on June 5, has prompted smoke advisories, a fireworks ban, trails and campground closures, traffic delays and a temporary flight restriction. As of a June 2 update from the Alaska Incident Management Team, the fire is currently 77,732 acres in size and has a total of 454 personnel working to protect important infrastructure, the Sterling Highway, the community of Sterling and the Homer Electric Association’s transmission line that runs parallel to the highway.

On Monday, crews focused on mop-up and suppression repair operations along 18 miles of fire break just north of the Sterling Highway. Meanwhile, the fire lines east of Sterling held strong after being tested by hot, dry weather. Personnel from the HEA worked with firefighters to inspect the transmission line, and further fire mitigation is expected to take place before the line is turned back on.

The fire continues to spread primarily east-northeast through thick strands of black spruce in the backcountry of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Protection of public use cabins in the area and the ENSTAR gas pipeline remains a priority.

Daniel Patterson, public information officer for the Incident Management Team, said that the status of the fire can change on a daily basis depending on the wind, but the priority for firefighters on the ground is mopping up burned areas and securing established fire lines. Patterson said the fire will remain active until significant rainfall hits the area.

“It’s important to note that, whenever this is all over, the area will be much more resilient to future fires, and communities like Sterling will be a lot safer,” Patterson said.

Incident Meteorologist Ben Bartos said that no rain is forecasted any time soon. The Kenai Peninsula has been consistently hot and dry for the duration of the fire, and Bartos said that the temperature in the area has been above-average for a longer amount of time than normal. The increased temperatures are partly caused by a high-pressure system located to the south of the peninsula, which Bartos said was pushed away slightly over the weekend by a weak cold front originating near Point Hope. Starting Thursday, Bartos said, the high-pressure system will return and temperatures on the peninsula are expected to increase once again. The fire itself, Bartos said, has not yet had an impact on local weather systems, but the formation of pyrocumulus clouds could occur at some point and would result in increased smoke, unpredictable winds and lightning storms in the area.

Smoke conditions on the peninsula were moderate on Monday, and an air quality advisory was issued by the Department of Environmental Conservation on July 1, and smoke will be continue to be an issue.

Tami Marsters, public health nurse for the Kenai Public Health Center, said that children and the elderly should especially be aware of changing smoke conditions in the area. Wildfire smoke can cause a variety of symptoms, including asthma/COPD attacks, chest pain, coughing, congestion, fatigue, headaches, irritated sinuses, rapid heartbeat, runny nose, scratchy throat, shortness of breath, stinging eyes and wheezing.

“Try to encourage your kids to stay inside on the days that are particularly bad,” Marsters said. “Admittedly, not an easy task with this beautiful weather.”

According to information from the Department of Health and Human Services, respirator masks labeled R95, N95 or P95 can filter out much of the smoke in the air, but they must have an airtight seal in order to be effective. The respirator masks also increase resistance to airflow and can cause increased breathing and heart rates in some individuals. The best way to limit exposure to smoke is to stay indoors on bad days with the windows and doors closed.

The best place to get information on the current air quality conditions on the peninsula can be found at the University of Alaska Fairbanks smoke prediction website.

The Department of Public Safety issued a ban on the sale and use of fireworks on the Kenai Peninsula and the ban is expected to remain in place through the weekend, including on the Fourth of July.

Traffic along the Sterling Highway experienced minor delays on Monday due to road construction resuming. Firefighters and construction workers are working along the road and nighttime smoke inversions may cause further delays throughout the week.

A Temporary Flight Restriction is in effect for the area over the fire, and pilots can confirm current restrictions at https://tfr.faa.gov/save_pages/detail_9_0513.html.

The Skilak Lake Wildlife Recreation Area partially reopened on Monday to allow public use at Lower and Upper Ohmer Lakes, Lower Ohmer Campground, Upper and Lower Skilak Lake Campgrounds and Upper Ohmer Lake Cabin. Skilak Lake Road, along with Jim’s, Upper, and Lower Skilak landings also remain open. For more information on the closures, contact the Refuge Visitor Center at 907-260-2820.

Officials for the Mount Marathon Race in Seward on July 4 have issued an announcement due to the persistent smoke from the Swan Lake Fire. According to the announcement, all registered runners will be allowed to defer their 2019 entry to the 2020 race if they choose not to run due to air quality. This includes lottery winners, priority racers, petitioners and special invites. The deferral form and the announcement can be found at the Mount Marathon website.

For the latest on the Swan Lake Fire, visit kpboem.com.

More in News

A king salmon during the 67th annual Golden North Salmon Derby at the Don D. Statter Memorial Boat Harbor in August 2013. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Low king counts result in closures on southern Kenai Peninsula

As of Sunday, video weirs and sonar had counted 184 king salmon at the Anchor River.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks during a Friday, March 27, 2020 press conference in the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
Revised travel mandates to begin Friday

Those arriving from outside the state must self-quarantine, but revisions allow for exceptions.

Nikiski Fire Station #2, seen here on July 15, 2019 in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
3 in Nikiski fire service test positive for virus

11 members of the department have been quarantined due to the possibility of COVID-19 exposure.

The Devil’s Creek Trail in Chugach National Forest, seen June 15, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
During pandemic, Chugach National Forest mostly stays the same

One of the differences will be in how much volunteer help the forest gets.

In front and from left to right, Aaron Ford, Karianna Ford and Jenni Stowe hold signs at a protest on Sunday, May 30, 2020, at WKFL Park in Homer, Alaska, in support of people of color who have been the subject of police violence, including George Floyd, a man who died May 25, 2020, in a police encounter in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In addition to the “We (heart) our po po” sign — “po po” is slang for “police” — there also was a sign that read “Thank you HPD.” (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Homer residents organize multiple demonstrations on racial injustice

Gatherings, protests and demonstrations have been held in Alaska from Anchorage to Haines to Bethel.

Participants in a Black Lives Matters protest hold signs at the entrance to Soldotna Creek Park along the Sterling Highway in Soldotna on Wednesday. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Peninsula residents turn out for Black Lives Matter

The protest drew about 50 participants to Soldotna Creek Park.

Alberta confirmed 13 new COVID-19 cases in the province Tuesday. There are no active cases in the central zone. (Image courtesy the CDC)
Virus case count continues to grow

20 new cases of COVID-19 reported, including 5 on the Kenai Peninsula.

Nikiski teen dies in ATV crash

The youth was driving a four-wheeler on Old Halbouty Road.

State turns attention to unemployment insurance fraud

Approximately 40 fraudulent claims have been identified in the past week.

Most Read