A photo of the Tustumena Lake Fire taken at 11 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5, 2019, illustrates the effect retardant and water drops had on the fire. (Photo by Jason Jordet/Alaska Division of Forestry)

A photo of the Tustumena Lake Fire taken at 11 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5, 2019, illustrates the effect retardant and water drops had on the fire. (Photo by Jason Jordet/Alaska Division of Forestry)

Wednesday thunderstorms spark 5 fires on the Peninsula

Suppression efforts continue on a large wildfire near Tustumena Lake that started Wednesday night as a result of thunderstorms and lightning strikes across the Kenai Peninsula.

A helicopter pilot discovered the fire at 6 p.m. Wednesday night while en route to check on a lightning strike in the area. As of midnight Wednesday, the Tustumena Lake Fire had reached 121 acres in size and a crew of 15 was working to prevent the flames from spreading by mopping up hot spots and digging fire lines where needed.

According to the latest update on Akfireinfo.com, the suppression teams included The Division of Forestry’s Pioneer Peak Interagency Hotshot Crew and the Yukon Type 2 Initial Attack Crew, which are based in Palmer and Soldotna, respectively. Division of Forestry Public Information Officer Andy Alexandrou said that these are elite crews who are trained specifically in ground suppression techniques for larger fires.

In addition to suppression crews on the ground, an air tanker based in Palmer was sent to the Tustumena Lake Fire Wednesday night and dropped four loads of retardant at the head of the blaze.

The Tustumena Lake Fire started in the footprint of the 2007 Caribou Hills fire, among fallen spruce trees and fresh grass. Alexandrou said that these areas make for flashier fires that ignite quickly, but they tend not to spread as easily as crown fires — blazes that reach the tops of standing trees and get carried by the wind.

The Tustumena Lake Fire was one of eight wildfires started by lightning on Wednesday, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, with five occurring on the Kenai Peninsula and three in Southwest Alaska. Alexandrou said that Wednesday’s fires are the first instances this year of lightning-caused fires on the peninsula. The other 19 recorded have been caused by human activity. Almost 4,200 lightning strikes occurred across the state on Wednesday, with 128 occurring on the Kenai Peninsula.

The Tustumena Lake Fire is located in the Caribou Hills approximately 30 miles south of Soldotna. Alexandrou said that the fire is at least 10 miles from the nearest structure and no evacuations were ordered.

According to Akfireinfo.com, the other four fires on the peninsula are burning in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Fire managers are currently assessing what actions to take, if any. These fires are no more than an acre in diameter each and are in remote areas. Fire managers conducted detection flights on the peninsula and in Southwest Alaska on Thursday to identify any additional fires started by Wednesday’s lightning.

Visit Akfireinfo.com for the latest information on wildfire activity in Alaska.

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