Funny River wildfire crews work on rehabilitation

Rehabilitation for the 195,858 acres Funny River Horse Trail wildfire firebreaks are complete, almost exactly a month after the blaze was first reported on May 19.

A Type 3 Incident Management Team has been working on the environmental repairs, said spokesman Terry Anderson.

The crew of 28 personnel worked a minimum of 12-hours a day for more than a week alleviating potential erosion caused by the disturbed soils surrounding the fire lines, Anderson said. Simply driving in equipment had contributed to the damage, he said.

“Making sure our natural resources are contained is the priority now,” said Leah Eskelin, Park Ranger at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Stabilizing the upset soil prevents sedimentation into the Kenai and Kasilof River drainage areas, which contain important fisheries, she said.

Opportunistic invasive plant life, such as dandelions, are also a risk, Eskelin said. The swaths of land are basically tilled and ready for seeding, she said.

Most fire lines were built on the northwestern side of the wildfire to protect the Kasilof, Funny River and Soldotna communities, Anderson said.

The Kasilof region was wet and boggy, so no large machinery could be brought in without risking more damage to the soil, Anderson said. So, all of the work had to be done by hand crews. The Funny River Road area was drier, with more solid ground and so it was possible to bring in two excavators, Anderson said. Spaces were also cleared for helicopters carrying support and supplies to land, or for removing crews from a potentially risky situation, Anderson said.

Building safe zones is a necessary part of the safety procedures in fighting a wildfire, and as the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire was erratic, having safe spaces to retreat was especially necessary, Anderson said.

The flames moved in the form of a “crown fire.” Crown fire can travel from 2-3 mph, often faster than a human can get away from it, Anderson said. It can also send embers flying up to 100 feet in front of it.

Pitch was a huge catalyst for the Funny River wildfire as well, Anderson said.

“Pitch burns like kerosene,” Anderson said. “It is a fire you can only fight with bulldozers.”

Dragging burnt or clear-cut brush is one way to restore these stripped spots, he said.

In total, there was nearly 25 miles of land that needed restoration, Anderson said. The process of rehabilitating land disturbed by the fire began only after the areas to the North and West perimeter of the wildfire was 100 percent contained, he said.

Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources — Division of Forestry has taken responsibility for monitoring and controlling the wildfire, Anderson said.

Currently, crews are primarily monitoring any potential hazards to human dwellings, Anderson said. Enough rain has fallen, however, so this particular fire will not flare up near town again, he said.

Most of the Type 3 Team will have a chance to relax after they return from working long shift for weeks straight, Anderson said.

 

Kelly Sullivan can be reached at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com

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