Marchers in the Soldotna Climate Strike walk through Soldotna Creek Park towards the Sterling Highway on Sept. 20, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Marchers in the Soldotna Climate Strike walk through Soldotna Creek Park towards the Sterling Highway on Sept. 20, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Year in Review: Fires, droughts and floods — the year in disasters

The biggest fire on the peninsula this year was the Swan Lake Fire.

Fires and drought exacerbated by unusually high temperatures dominated the news cycle this year.

The biggest fire on the peninsula this year was the Swan Lake Fire, which began in a remote part of the Kenai Wildlife Refuge after a lightning strike on June 5. By the end of the summer, the fire had burned 167,182 acres and involved 3,000 fire management personnel from around the country. The fire threatened the communities of Sterling and Cooper Landing with potential evacuation, although no evacuation order was ever issued. At one point in August the fire had crossed the Sterling Highway, prompting multiple, extended closures of the only road leading in or out of the peninsula.

This summer saw record-high temperatures, which led to water shortages in the city of Seldovia and the Native Village of Nanwalek. The Swan Lake Fire burned well into October and reached alpine areas near Cooper Landing that hadn’t seen fire in decades due in part to the lack of rain on the peninsula.

In the wake of these events, some residents of the peninsula gathered with others around the world for a Climate Strike to urge local government officials to address the impacts of a changing climate. Some of those same protesters began gathering every month in a series of meetings to determine a way to implement environmentally friendly practices in the local community, and eventually they devised a plan to expand community composting.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough incorporated into their 2019 Comprehensive Plan climate change mitigation policies, including the formation of a borough commission on sustainability.

After the Swan Lake Fire no longer needed constant monitoring, Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, arranged a meeting in November with local fire managers to discuss how to better prepare for fires on that scale in the future. Officials from local, state and federal agencies all agreed that the unprecedented fire conditions seen this summer would likely be back in the years to come, and all of the agencies represented at that meeting said that they were taking steps to incorporate that reality into their management policies.

Flooding was also an issue this year. In August, the Snow Glacier dammed lake released water into the Snow River, Kenai River and Kenai Lake. This flooding prompted an advisory from the National Weather Service and complicated the logistics of fire crews battling the Swan Lake Fire and at times prevented them from being able to reach areas that were being burned.

Once winter had hit the peninsula, it brought with it more storms and flooding. On Dec. 6 the borough issued an emergency disaster declaration in response to power outages and gale-force winds across the peninsula as well as a flood warning from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for Anchor Point and the Anchor River.

Christmas Day on the peninsula saw steady snowfall coupled with breezy wind conditions, and although the parts of the peninsula remain “abnormally dry” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a chance of snow is expected on New Year’s Day.

Public information officer Brian Scott, left, and Division Charlie supervisor Kip Shields, right, make their way to the nearest drop point on Skilak Lake Road on Aug. 30, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Public information officer Brian Scott, left, and Division Charlie supervisor Kip Shields, right, make their way to the nearest drop point on Skilak Lake Road on Aug. 30, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Firefighters with the Snake River Valley firefighting team help each other suit up for the day’s operations on Skilak Lake Road on Aug. 30, 2019. (photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Firefighters with the Snake River Valley firefighting team help each other suit up for the day’s operations on Skilak Lake Road on Aug. 30, 2019. (photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Firefighters from the Snake River Valley head out to their assignment expanding a containment line off of Skilak Lake Road southeast of Sterling, Alaska on Aug. 30, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Firefighters from the Snake River Valley head out to their assignment expanding a containment line off of Skilak Lake Road southeast of Sterling, Alaska on Aug. 30, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Firefighters from the Snake River Valley Type 2 crew work to expand a containment line off of Skilak Lake Road southeast of Sterling, Alaska on Aug. 30, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Firefighters from the Snake River Valley Type 2 crew work to expand a containment line off of Skilak Lake Road southeast of Sterling, Alaska on Aug. 30, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Motorists heading east from Sterling, Alaska wait for a pilot car to escort them down the Sterling Highway on Aug. 30, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Motorists heading east from Sterling, Alaska wait for a pilot car to escort them down the Sterling Highway on Aug. 30, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Large swaths of burnt trees can be seen here along the Sterling Highway on Aug. 30, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek)

Large swaths of burnt trees can be seen here along the Sterling Highway on Aug. 30, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek)

Year in Review: Fires, droughts and floods — the year in disasters

Large swaths of burnt trees can be seen here along the Sterling Highway on Aug. 30, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek)

More in News

LaDawn Druce asks Sen. Jesse Bjorkman a question during a town hall event on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
District unions call for ‘walk-in’ school funding protest

The unions have issued invitations to city councils, the borough assembly, the Board of Education and others

tease
House District 6 race gets 3rd candidate

Alana Greear filed a letter of intent to run on April 5

Kenai City Hall is seen on Feb. 20, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai water treatment plant project moves forward

The city will contract with Anchorage-based HDL Engineering Consultants for design and engineering of a new water treatment plant pumphouse

Students of Soldotna High School stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
SoHi students walk out for school funding

The protest was in response to the veto of an education bill that would have increased school funding

The Kenai Courthouse as seen on Monday, July 3, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Clam Gulch resident convicted of 60 counts for sexual abuse of a minor

The conviction came at the end of a three-week trial at the Kenai Courthouse

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meets in Seward, Alaska, on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (screenshot)
Borough awards contract for replacement of Seward High School track

The project is part of a bond package that funds major deferred maintenance projects at 10 borough schools

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President LaDawn Druce, left, and committee Chair Jason Tauriainen, right, participate in the first meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Four Day School Week Ad Hoc Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
4-day school week committee talks purpose of potential change, possible calendar

The change could help curb costs on things like substitutes, according to district estimates

A studded tire is attached to a very cool car in the parking lot of the Peninsula Clarion in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, April 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Studded tire removal deadline extended

A 15-day extension was issued via emergency order for communities above the 60 degrees latitude line

A sign for Peninsula Community Health Services stands outside their facility in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, April 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
PCHS to pursue Nikiski expansion, moves to meet other community needs

PCHS is a private, nonprofit organization that provides access to health care to anyone in the community

Most Read