If you see smoke near Soldotna this week, don’t panic. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge began prescribed burning in two forested areas along Funny River Road on Wednesday and will continue through Friday.
The burns, taking place at Mile 4.5 and 6.25 along Funny River Road, are part of a hazardous fuel reduction project aimed at lowering the risk of wildfires breaking out near homes and wildland-urban interface, said Kristi Bulock, fire management officer at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Bulock said the goal of the controlled burns is to change the continuity of the fuels available in the forest — essentially removing the most flammable material.
“We change the vegetation in order to affect fire behavior in the future,” Bulock said.
The prescribed burning along Funny River Road has been a common practice since the late 1990s, she said.
Fire management officials typically thin out conifers and remove flammable underbrush, but leave many of the larger trees to preserve a forest canopy. The tree canopy retains moisture and creates a more humid environment that can help reduce the risk of fires.
The forested area was thinned out in late 2016, but fire officials waited until winter — when chances of the fires spreading are low — to begin burning.
Needles and branches collected in small slash piles are being burned in two sections of the refuge encompassing about 5 acres. Larger pieces of have been made available to the public for firewood, Bulock said. Permits are required from the Refuge headquarters to collect firewood.
Fire officials expect smoke to drift south, away from Soldotna, but will be monitoring wind patterns. Drivers should be cautious when passing between Mile 4 and Mile 7 along Funny River Road.