Target practice sparks small wildfire

Target practice Sunday night ignited a fire in the Soldotna area.

At 8 p.m., Central Emergency Services and the Alaska Division of Forestry responded to Rainbow Drive off of Mackey Lake Road in Soldotna for a report of a wildland fire.

Crews from both agencies surrounded the fire on its sides, fighting the flames inward. They arrived on scene within 10 minutes of receiving the report, which was called in by the people shooting targets. The fire had spread about an acre, said Brad Nelson, CES health and safety officer.

The 11 responders contained the fire to a small circle and extinguished the flames. The total affected area remained less than an acre, but a slower response could have resulted in a larger fire, Nelson said.

When responders arrived, the flames had climbed to the top of trees. A light wind carried some embers causing spot fires, small fires in different locations, Nelson said.

There were no injuries and no structures damaged as a result of the fire.

Despite persistent rainy weather during the past two weeks, the potential for human-caused wild land fires remains high, said Sharon Roesch, Division of Forestry fire prevention officer.

"The surface fuels were still dry enough, even with (40 percent) humidity and light winds," she said. "If the winds were stronger the fire would've carried faster, farther."

In mid-June, fire behavior shifts as trees like black spruce carry flames rather than dead grasses, or ground fuels. A healthy layer of vegetation has grown throughout the Kenai Peninsula and some ground fuels remain, but "tree torching" is more common during this point of the summer, said Roesch.

Camping season is approaching; she advises campers keep water close by to suppress potential fires.

Rainbow drive is a popular spot for target practice, littered with destroyed objects, trash and shell casings. Nelson, however, said there is no record of a similar fire in the area. And Roesch said she was surprised the fire ignited as a result of target practice.

Fires caused by firearms and target practice are scarce, a once or twice a year occurrence, said Nelson.

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.

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