Firefighters are finally getting a handle on the large wildfire that has scorched a huge stretch of the Kenai Peninsula.
The human-caused blaze sparked on May 18 near a horse trail along Funny River Road and has since engulfed an area the size of many large cities. Portions of the fire along the west and southwest borders of the fire perimeter have diminished, and on May 30 the growth slowed substantially.
KTUU.com will provide updates important to Southcentral Alaska residents in this post as information becomes available:
Last updated at 3 p.m. Friday, May 29
-- The fire on Friday, May 30, encompassed an estimated 193,243 acres, with 46 percent of the blaze contained. That amounts to about 1,000 acres of overnight growth, with identical containment from the night before. 759 firefighters and support personnel remain on scene.
-- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is asking for public help as investigators seek those responsible for starting the Funny River fire. "Investigators have determined that the fire was human caused but was not the result of an abandoned campfire," USFWS officials wrote in a Wednesday statement. Anyone with information on the fire's source, or people or vehicles in the Woodcut Road area on the afternoon of May 19, should call Alaska State Troopers at 907-262-4453.
-- Rainfall has helped the cause, letting firefighters on scene push ahead and expand their perimeter around the fire. But at about a tenth of an inch daily, it has not enough to stop the spread of the fire. "The rain definitely didn't hurt us, but it's not enough to put a fire of this magnitude out," said Brad Nelson, Central Emergency Services spokesperson. "It would take two or three days of hard sustained rain to have an effect on this fire."
-- Containment measures a line across which fire cannot pass, meaning the firefighters actually picked up a lot of ground near residential areas while growth pushed to the east.
-- After the fire is contained, firefighters will begin efforts to control the blaze, something that is still a long way off.
-- Kenai Peninsula Borough spokesperson Brenda Ahlberg saidFunny River residents will see Red Cross staff going door-to-door Wednesday beginning at 10 a.m. According to information relayed by Ahlberg from Red Cross spokesperson Janette Hanneman, "(t)hey will be offering food provisions, water, bug spray, eye wash, (and) fire preparedness information."
-- State fire officials report that five structures -- four recreational cabins, one of which was privately owned, plus an outbuilding -- have burned in the Funny River fire as of Tuesday afternoon. None of the four cabins were being used as primary residences, and all of them were only accessible by four-wheeler or boat.
-- An evacuation advisory has been canceled for residents living in the Feuding Lane and Kenai Keys Road areas.
-- The evacuation order for the Funny River Road area has been canceled, and an evacuation advisory is in effect. Residents who left the area may return to their property. The Alaska Interagency Incident Command in Soldotna is asking people to travel with caution as emergency crews continue to work on or near the road. Residents in the Funny River Road area are encouraged to remain vigilant and prepared to evacuate should fire conditions change.
-- The Office of Emergency Management is currently notifying residents by Rapid Notification, KSRM 920AM and media contacts.
-- Kenai Peninsula Borough spokesperson Brenda Ahlberg says Funny River Road traffic has been restricted by Central Emergency Services: "They need to have unrestricted access to effectively respond. Troopers and other law enforcement agencies continue patrols throughout the area." While Ahlberg says evacuation orders remain in effect, those with critical needs remaining in the area can call Soldotna dispatchers at 262-4453 to arrange an Alaska State Trooper escort.
-- The Kasilof evacuation advisory was lifted for the Sterling Highway bewteen mileposts 103 and 109, but spot fires along the western side of the fire's borders developed near milepost 102 along the Sterling Highway, heading toward Soldotna.
-- Alaska Interagency Incident Command officials on the Funny River wildfire report the fire has expanded to affect more than 158,585 acres. Crews started making a “strong push” northeast Sunday night. As of Monday morning, officials report the fire remains 30 percent contained.
-- Below is a map of the fire's boundaries Friday morning:
-- The Skilak Lake Camp Ground area was issued an evacuation notice that remains in effect Tuesday.
-- Fire crews are building lines toward Kasilof, an area that hasn’t seen “a lot of fire activity” for the past few days.
-- Incident management spokeswoman Michelle Weston praised the efforts of the Alaska Army National Guard Blackhawk helicopter crews for mobilizing water dumps to affected areas.
-- The Red Cross is operating a shelter at Redoubt Elementary School.
-- Residents at emergency shelters are advised to contact family members and update them on their whereabouts and current condition. This should include out of state family, as this fire is now a nationally televised story, and they too may worry if their loved ones are affected.
-- A house fire and spot fires being handled by CES has led to an evacuation advisory for residents along Feuding Lane and Kenai Keys Road in Soldotna. Visit AK Interagency Incident Management Facebook page for updates.
-- Fire crews back burned on Funny River Road near milepost 7 Sunday afternoon, limiting traffic to property owners but building an effective fire line in the area.
-- The Funny River fire grew overnight Saturday and early Sunday to 123,649 acres. Fire officials estimate 20 percent of the blaze is contained. The fire has grown dramatically throughout the past few days: 78,213 early Friday, 96,584 late Friday and 106,000 late Saturday.
-- An evacuation advisory issued for the Funny River fire area was extended to include the Sterling Highway from Kalifornsky Beach Road to Mile 109.5 and Funny River Road from the airport to the end of the road. That advisory remained in effect Sunday morning.
-- Travelers are advised to use Kalifornsky Beach Road for all necessary movement in the area.
-- Media briefings will be held daily at 10 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. until the fire is under control in an effort to streamline information to residents. Central Emergency Services and leaders from the Type 2 management team will coordinate the briefings.
-- Residents living between miles 103 and 105 of the Sterling Highway were ordered to evacuate on Saturday night at about 11 p.m. According to those in charge of the fire response, it was determined that the fire died down enough to allow residents back to their homes just before 3 a.m., so the evacuation order was reversed. The area remains under an evacuation advisory, meaning residents should be ready in case fire activity picks up and they need to get out of harms way.
--The Division of Forestry confirmed a Type 2 Incident Management Team from Washington state will be taking over the Funny River fire area Saturday, May 24.
-- An early Friday morning estimate suggests the wildfire encompasses 67,084 acres, according to the Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team. Night operations involving 218 personnel yielded 15 percent containment, up from 5 percent a day earlier.
-- By 11 a.m., 374 personnel were assigned to fight the fire, with an expected uptick to more than 500 over the weekend. CL215 water bombers from Alberta, Canada are facilitating efforts to attack the fire by scooping up water from nearby Skilak and Tustumena lakes, while ground crews are doing heavy lifting to hold a line near residential areas.
-- A red flag warning remains in place Friday, meaning weather conditions make it likely that wildfires could spread quickly without vigilant efforts. Sustained winds 8 to 16 miles per hour are predicted, and there is no chance of rain. Winds blew away from residential areas early in the day, but shortly before noon they shifted and started blowing in the direction of town.
-- More than 400 people attended Thursday evening community meetings hosted by fire official at Tustumena Elementary School in Kasilof and Funny River Road Community Center. The incident commander and an array of officials took questions and outlined what would need to happen if an evacuation is ordered. Some residents expressed concerns with the response efforts and communication with officials; others said they were pleased with the response.
-- A temporary flight restriction remains in place over Funny River, with no pilots allowed to fly between sea level and 4,000 feet. Pilots planning trips to the village should check Federal Aviation Agency NOTAM 4/4812 if they intend to fly in the area. The Soldotna Airport remains open and flights are taking off as scheduled, according to the city.
-- Flights are still allowed in and out of the Soldotna Airport, and an employee reported decent visibility through the haze early Thursday. Pilots should check current information before takeoff if they intend to land in Soldotna.
-- Air quality in communities across the Kenai Peninsula remains poor, with warnings from the state Department of Health and Human Services. Residents are cautioned to stay inside if they have breathing problems due to ash and smoke settling.
-- Flame retardants could be used to battle the flames, something that would upset many residents, as it is unclear what effect it would have on this summer's salmon runs. "They'll only be used near water if there's no other option," said Brad Nelson.
-- While many people want to see the fire, the Alaska State Troopers are patrolling to keep people back from Funny River Road so fire personnel can respond without traffic interference. Anyone who wants a safe vantage point is encouraged to go to Mile 106 of the Sterling Highway in Soldotna.
BELUGA & TYONEK
Last updated at noon Wednesday, May 28
-- The Division of Forestry says the fire that sparked Sunday, May 18, and burned dangerously close to the Cook Inlet village of Tyonek was 100 percent contained early Wednesday. That means there is a firm line drawn around the fire, across which flames cannot cross. 112 personnel assigned to the fire are being released today, but a hand crew will stay on site to work toward controlling the fire.
-- Sarah Saarloos, Division of Forestry spokesperson, said the remaining crew will make a grid of the area and search the nearly 2,000 acres for any hot spots. "They'll be physically going through the area where the fire burned and looking for heat they can see or feel in areas underneath trees or berms that might be holding heat," Saarloos said. That process should take about a week, she said.
-- The final boundary shows an estimated 1,906 acres burned in the blaze.
-- No serious injuries occurred in the effort to fight the fire, but a significant safety concern for firefighters continues to be standing trees which have been weakened by the fire and may topple in windy conditions while they mop up.
-- Tyonek residents evacuated when the fire burned close to the village, but they were allowed back into town a couple days later. No one was injured.
-- Firefighters successfully established lines around village sites in Beluga and Tyonek and at oil and gas sites, a power plant and key infrastructure sites, with attacks from the ground and the sky. No homes were lost, and only five structures overall were taken by the fire: two outbuildings and three abandoned metal storage units.
-- One common concern expressed by residents was that flame retardants be used only far away from waterways salmon runs, something a forestry spokesperson said firefighters agreed to do.
-- The village of Tyonek is composed of about 100 people, and the influx of firefighters doubled the population overnight. "We don't have a grocery store," says Debra Call of the Tyonek Native Corporation. "We need to be able to feed the firefighters, house them. We can only rely upon donations, and we need help right now." Anyone who wants to donate money or goods can find out how on the Tyonek Native Corporation's Facebook page. Corporate sponsors and individuals had provided more than $24,000 on Friday morning.
-- A temporary flight restriction remains in effect over Tyonek, with no pilots allowed to fly between sea level and 5,000 feet. Pilots planning trips to the village should check Federal Aviation Agency NOTAM 4/4824 if they intend to fly to the area.
ANCHORAGE & MAT-SU
-- Heading into the weekend, the Anchorage Fire Department on Friday, May 30, announced a burn ban that lasted more than a week has been lifted. A ban remains in effect on the Kenai Peninsula
-- An air quality advisory in Anchorage, issued due to smoke from the Funny River and Tyonek wildfires, was lifted at 1:40 p.m. May 20. In a statement, city Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Jennifer Ruggles writes that "Smoke concentrations have dissipated, and air quality is now good throughout the Municipality of Anchorage. Anchorage Air Quality Program expects that air quality conditions will remain good under the current weather pattern."
-- The Alaska Air Monitoring Network reports Monday air quality in Anchorage has worsened to "moderate" since last reported Friday when it was in "good" condition.
-- Weather forecasts call for rain beginning Tuesday, which could bring some relief to crews battling fires both in Tyonek and along the Kenai Peninsula.
-- The Alaska Air Monitoring Network reports air quality in Anchorage improved to "good" on Friday, May 23. A day earlier the network called parts of the city's air "unhealthy" and other parts "moderate." The Department of Health and Human Services recommended Thursday that Anchorage residents stay indoors and refrain from strenuous exercise due to the smoke level.
-- The Mat-Su Borough enacted an air quality advisory for the entire borough from 8 a.m. Thursday until the fires are extinguished and the smoke clears. Due to the smoky conditions, the air quality in these areas has become unhealthy to hazardous. The 24-hour Air Quality Alert System phone number, 907-352-3878, provides updates on the advisory.
-- The Anchorage School District recommended that all outdoor activities be held inside Thursday, the last day of school.