The Swan Lake Fire has reached 23,210 acres and continues to spread eastward, according to a Saturday update from the Alaska Incident Management Team.
The fire, which was started by lightning strikes on June 5, is located in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge northeast of the community of Sterling. There are 335 personnel managing the fire, including five crews from the Lower 48 that arrived on Thursday and Friday. In addition, aerial firefighting efforts will be bolstered by the arrival of several large “scooper” planes from Canada that will scoop water out of Skilak and Hidden lakes to attack the fire’s edge. Those recreating near the lakes should be aware of these operations and avoid the center of the lakes.
More than 200 community members attended a fire information meeting on Friday night at the Sterling Community Center to hear an update from the incident management team on the status of the Swan Lake Fire. During the meeting, several personnel detailed the strategies being used to contain the fire and protect critical infrastructure while allowing the fire to burn through dense black spruce forest. Operations Section Chief Chris Wennogle said that the southwest perimeter of the fire, known as Division Alpha, has been the priority area for creating fire lines due to its proximity to Sterling and the Sterling Highway, and has been well contained at this time.
“We have a lot of forces on the ground primarily focusing on that Division Alpha area to prevent that fire from moving towards the community,” Wennogle said.
Wennogle said that the southeastern side of the fire has been the main source of smoke, which has caused reduced visibility along the Sterling Highway. To the north, Wennogle said the environment turns to mostly wetlands and provides a natural buffer for containing the fire.
Incident meteorologist Julia Ruthford, who is in charge of monitoring the weather forecasts in the immediate area of the fire, said during the meeting that the Kenai Peninsula has a unique weather system compared to the rest of the state. Sea breezes can come from several different directions, which has made the winds affecting the fire difficult to predict. Scattered thunderstorms are forecasted for Sunday and Monday with temperatures increasing later in the week, and the potential thunderstorms could create problems for the firefighters on the ground.
A recording of the full meeting can be found online at the Alaska Division of Forestry’s Facebook page, and akfireinfo.com provides the latest information on all wildfires in Alaska. The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Office of Emergency Management has set up a call center operating from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day to answer questions about the Swan Lake Fire. The number for the call center is 907-262-INFO, and people can also call the team managing the fire directly at 208-391-3488.