Firefighters try for uphill wildfire battle

Agencies aim to push Homer blaze up mountain into snow

Posted: Monday, May 02, 2005

Fire crews fighting a 3,270-acre fire near Homer were aided by cooler weather and rising humidity Sunday, but still had not brought the blaze under control.

"It's growing," Sharon Rousch, with the Alaska Division of Forestry, said Sunday.

The fire was reported by a Homer volunteer fire department member Friday. Reported as being approximately 1,000 acres in size Saturday, the fire had grown to over 3,000 acres by Sunday evening.

It is located approximately 10 miles northeast of town in a hilly, sparsely populated woodland area that contains plenty of dry grasses and dead spruce trees. As of Sunday afternoon, forestry officials said no structures were threatened and no evacuations have been called for.

The fire is believed to have been caused when a spark from an electrical line came in contact with the dry ground.

Rousch said that the fire on Sunday had been somewhat confined in a corridor north of the Bradley Lake electrical transmission line and Fritz Creek. She said crews were trying to herd the flames uphill into wetter, mountainous terrain and away from a residential neighborhood located approximately two miles away on nearby Skyline Drive.

"They are trying to direct it by hooking around the western corner," Rousch said.

She said winds were blowing from the west, which was aiding firefighters in their cause, and speculated that if crews could continue herding the flames into the mountains, the blaze could be brought under control.

"If they can continue to spread it into the high country, I think they'll get a pretty good handle on it," she said.

As many as 90 firefighters were on the scene Sunday to battle the blaze, as well as three helicopters and several bulldozers.

An informational meeting on the fire was held for the public Sunday night at Homer High School.

Fire season has come early to the Kenai Peninsula this spring, as unseasonably warm temperatures combined with dry conditions have already led to at least three wildland fires.

"It is really early to be fighting something like this," Rousch said.

Fire season is normally considered to begin May 1, the first day residents are required to obtain burn permits for open burning. This season, however, has been an unusual one. So unusual, in fact, that forestry officials announced Saturday that open burning has already been suspended across the Kenai Peninsula. That means the only allowed burning is for campfires and permitted burn barrels with well-defined fire lines.

"Any fire has to have someone in attendance and a fire break," Rousch said.

She also said anyone who did any burning over the winter should check burn sites for any smoldering remains. Although a fire may appear to be out, she said embers can remain burning underground, only to flare back up if conditions are right.

"It can burn underground in the duff," she said.

Anyone with questions about burning rules can contact state forestry at 262-4124. For more information on the status of the Homer fire, call (907) 235-7734.

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