The Swan Lake Fire continues to burn in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge northeast of Sterling, and as of Tuesday night it had reached 3,665 acres in size — an increase of 1,000 acres from the previous day. The fire was caused by lightning last Wednesday and is burning in a limited protection area within the refuge.
Division of Forestry Public Information Officer Sarah Saarloos said that the area where the fire is burning is dense with highly flammable black spruce and has not seen a natural fire since 1947. As a result, fire managers from the Alaska Division of Forestry are working with refuge personnel to actively monitor the fire while allowing the natural burn process to occur.
The fire is about 2.7 miles north of the Sterling Highway at its closest point, but Sarloos said that the fire has mostly spread away from the highway to the northeast and northwest and is not likely to threaten any critical infrastructure or populated areas. According to a Wednesday, June 12 update from the Division of Forestry, the area between the highway and the fire consists mostly of wetlands and sparse patches of fuel that will limit its spread. A type 3 incident management team from the Division of Forestry is developing plans to ensure the protection of communities and mitigate smoke and fire impacts to the Sterling Highway.
“If it does start growing towards the highway, we have operational resources ready to be deployed to keep the highway open,” Saarloos said.
A smoke advisory is still in effect for the Sterling Highway from Mile 65 to 75, and motorists are advised to slow down and use caution driving through the fire area. Due to the ongoing fire activity, several access routes within the refuge have been closed to the public: Mystery Creek Ranch Road, East Fork Moose River north of Watson Lake and the Enstar Pipeline right-of-way from the refuge boundary east of Sterling to the Chickaloon River. The closures will remain in effect through July 11, and anyone with questions regarding the closures can call the refuge at 907-262-7021.
For the latest information on the Swan Lake Fire and other wildfires on the peninsula, visit www.akfireinfo.com or www.kpboem.com.