The East Fork wildland fire burning near Sterling in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is shrinking in size as fire managers prepare to clear fuels in the area to protect residents.
The blaze, which began with a lightning strike last Thursday, is now estimated to be 1,016 acres thanks to more accurate mapping, said Alaska Division of Forestry Public Information Officer Celeste Prescott. It is still burning about 4.5 miles north of the Sterling Highway in a limited suppression area of the refuge.
Firefighters have been working for days to secure the western and southern borders of the wildfire to keep it from spreading toward the highway or toward Sterling.
“They’re starting to lay fire hose around that western perimeter and around the pipeline corridor as well,” Prescott said.
More than 100 people are still working on the fire, with a hotshot crew from Palmer also on the way, Prescott said. They will be good to have on hand for the planned “burnout operation” that will remove a stand of highly flammable black spruce from the area that could serve as future fuel. Another part of the management plan includes creating a fire break from the fire’s southwest perimeter about 2.5 miles south to the east-west Enstar Natural Gas Co. natural gas pipeline.
Crews were continuing that work Wednesday, Prescott said, including clearing 100 feet around each pipeline valve.
The burning of black spruce trees will have to wait for drier weather so that firefighters can achieve a complete clearing, not leaving any fuels behind, Prescott said.
“If we were to try and do it now, parts and pieces might burn but it wouldn’t be a clean one,” she said.
A temporary flight restriction over the fire is still in place.