Homer blaze flares again

Posted: Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Alaska Division of Forestry firefighters contained the Tracy Avenue Fire last Wednesday, but the fire leapt outside the fire break Monday, burning 300 acres on the north side of last week's containment line on the west side of Bald Mountain before being stopped. No structures were in danger from the flare up.

Airplane tankers dropped 20,000 gallons of retardant by 7 p.m. Helicopter crews dropped another 50,000 gallons of water Monday afternoon, working until 10 p.m. Six bulldozer operators began putting a new fire break around the fire extension. Smoke jumpers parachuted into the area Monday as part of the initial attack on the new fire.

Burn permits remain suspended for the Kenai-Kodiak area.

"The risk is just too great to burn this time of year," said Sharon Roesch, a fire safety officer for State Forestry in Soldotna.

A crew working the main containment line reported the flare up, Roesch said. Homeowners near Greer Road and on Skyline Drive called 911 about the fire. Roesch encouraged people to report any suspicious fires.

"If you see someone burning, don't feel like you're being a nosy neighbor," she said. "We'd rather go talk to them before the fire spreads out than after."

State Forestry ordered new crews from Alaska and Oregon to work the Tracy Avenue Fire. By late Tuesday or early today, three Type 1 — or more highly trained — crews and three Type 2 crews were expected in Homer, for about 100 firefighters on scene. Five helicopters also are available to dump more water or shuttle crews and supplies. Alaska now has three air retardant tankers available, with one in Fairbanks and two in Palmer, Roesch said.

Including the new flare up, the Tracy Avenue Fire has burned about 5,385 acres. The fire began April 29 when a power line broke at the end of Tracy Avenue near Mile 8 of East End Road. Firefighters got a handle on the fire May 2 when air tankers dropped retardants on the west edge, about a half mile from the Anchor River, preventing it from jumping the river and threatening homes in the North Fork Road and Nikolaevsk areas.

A south wind last week also pushed the fire north. Slight rain and lower temperatures cooled the fire May 4 and 5. Firefighters had the fire 100 percent contained with a fire break around the entire area.

The Tracy Avenue Fire is not yet controlled, Roesch said.

"We aren't going to call it controlled for a long time because of unburned material," she said.

Melting snow, warm temperatures, dry grass and beetle-killed spruce continue to create hazardous wildfire conditions for much of the Kenai Peninsula. While grass fires burn out, fire in downed timber can smolder, and winds can blow embers out of a burn and ignite new spot fires, said Roesch. She said she didn't know how far embers had traveled in Monday's fire, but it's easy for embers to carry 300 feet.

"We expect more flare ups from the interior (of the fire)," she said.

This week's forecast calls for 20 percent humidity, with continued warm temperatures and winds out of the south-southwest. A low-pressure system out of the Gulf of Alaska could bring a chance of rain over the weekend, Roesch said. It also could cause the wind to shift from the east — a drying wind.

Firefighters have been working in from the containment line, Roesch said. Falling snags make working hazardous around stands of burnt timber. Crews will continue to hit hot spots as they flare up, she said.

Temporary flight restrictions remain for the airspace above the fire between Bald Mountain and the Beaver Creek flats.



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