Fire crews are briefed on the day’s operations at the Otter Creek Spike Camp on Aug. 21, 2019. (Courtesy Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management)

Fire crews are briefed on the day’s operations at the Otter Creek Spike Camp on Aug. 21, 2019. (Courtesy Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management)

Swan Lake Fire prompts highway closure, burn ban

The closure is due to heavy smoke and poor visibility in the area

4:23 p.m. Update: Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce has declared a disaster emergency in response to the continued activity of the Swan Lake Fire as well as other active wildfires around the peninsula. The declaration from the mayor includes a call to the governor to make resources for disaster assistance available to the borough.

4:12 p.m. Update: Due to increased fire activity, traffic on the Sterling Highway has been stopped from MP 58-75, according to alerts from the Kenai Peninsula Borough. This allows aerial resources to be used alongside the highway to target fire activity. The closure is expected to last several hours.

Noon Update: According to the latest update from the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Office of Emergency Management, the Sterling Highway was reopened after being closed at 6:45 a.m. from Mile 53 to mile 75. The closure is due to heavy smoke and poor visibility in the area. According to OEM, there is no word on when the road might open. Updates will be posted at www.kpboem.com.

Free camping is available at Centennial and Swiftwater parks in Soldotna for stranded motorists. The rodeo grounds are available for individuals with livestock or other animals.

The Alaska Division of Forestry has instituted an emergency burn closure on state, private, borough and municipal lands within the Kenai Peninsula and Matanuska-Susitna boroughs as of 8 a.m. today.

All burning, including campfires and the use of charcoal grills, is prohibited. Devices that can be turned on and off, such as gas and pellet grills and backpacking or camp stoves that use fuel or compressed fuel canisters will still be allowed. The closure includes campfires in established fire pits or rings in designated campgrounds. A map of the burn closure areas is available on the OEM website.

Persistent warm and dry conditions have led to extreme wildfire danger in Southcentral Alaska. Several new wildfires are straining local initial attack resources, including the Deshka Landing and McKinley fires in the Mat-Su Valley and the Caribou Lake and North Fork fires on the Kenai Peninsula. The Swan Lake Fire has also seen a dramatic increase in activity in recent days, and the latest infrared mapping from Tuesday night puts the fire’s size at 141,923 acres.

Community meetings will be held at the Cooper Landing School tonight at 6 p.m. and at the Sterling Community Center on Thursday at 6 p.m. to discuss the Swan Lake Fire.

Yesterday, firefighters and dozers completed an initial containment line to limit the fire’s spread to the west and implemented structure protection measures in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area. Today , crews from the Type 1 Great Basin Incident Management Team will continue constructing control lines around the fire’s perimeter.

On the western flank, crews are working south of the Sterling Highway to limit the fire’s spread towards Sterling.

On the eastern side, crews are scouting options for control lines and deploying fire hoses south of the highway for future response actions.

North of the highway, firefighters are reestablishing contingency lines west of the Resurrection Trail corridor to use as primary control lines. They will also be implementing structure protection measures for the public use cabins in the Resurrection Trail corridor.

When visibility allows, tactical firefighting aircraft will be used to check the fire’s spread in critical areas.

The community of Cooper Landing and Sterling residents east of Feuding Lane and east of Adkins Road are still in a Level 1 “Ready” Alert according to OEM. A Level 1 alert is not a notice to leave, but it means that residents in these areas must be ready for potential evacuation. Residents in these areas should assist family members with special needs, arrange to move mobile property such as boats, trailers and ATVs and prepare pets and livestock for possible evacuation.

Cooper Landing School opened at 11 a.m. today according to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. The school day will still end at the normal time, 3:15 p.m. Absences will be excused if parents choose to keep children at home due to air quality concerns, road closures or wildfire activity in the area. Outdoor recess and physical activity at all school locations may be modified based on Air Quality Levels.

For the latest information on the fire, visit www.kpboem.com or www.akfireinfo.com.

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