CohoeLoop fire: 67 acres so far

Posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A wildfire erupting out of a controlled burn Monday afternoon in Kasilof had firefighters working through the night and well into Tuesday in an effort to prevent it from spreading further.

By noon Tuesday, 67 acres had been consumed, according to an Alaska Division of Forestry Kenai Area wildfire report. No injuries had been reported and while the flames threatened more than a dozen homes and outbuildings, there were no confirmed structure losses.

Firefighters were not expected to have the fire contained until sometime this afternoon, a fire official said late Tuesday.

Kasilof resident Brenda Cameron was burning grass and small piles of brush near her home Monday as part of a plan to establish a defensible space around the house at Mile 5.4 North Cohoe Loop Road. She had a burn permit.

Cameron told authorities she heard a “pop” and one pile fire “went sky high.” She phoned 911 for help, and soon the blaze grew beyond her control, spreading into a sparsely populated area between Hermansen Drive, Cohoe Loop and Le Doux Road.

Division of Forestry and Central Emergency Services responded. Helicopters began dumping water and an air tanker delivered loads of retardant to the blaze. Eight smoke jumpers with the Federal Bureau of Land Management arrived from Fairbanks to assist in fighting the fire, and a pair of CL15 water-scooping aircraft arrived to drop more water on the blaze throughout Monday evening.

Other resources sent to help included an Alaska Fish and Wildlife Service engine and a crew from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Two additional 20-person Type 1 hand crews were ordered and expected to be at the scene Tuesday afternoon.

No mandatory evacuation from around the fire was ordered, according to a Tuesday morning wildfire report, but some residents voluntarily left, division officials said. A temporary shelter was set up at Tustumena Elementary School.

Twenty-two firefighters working through the night had surrounded the fire with hoses and were delivering water by Tuesday morning. As of noon Tuesday, the division reported three air tankers were on the ramp at the Kenai retardant site and a Bell 212 helicopter had been assigned to the fire. A temporary flight restriction zone 3 nautical miles in radius was established over the fire zone below 5,500 feet.

Reached about 4 p.m. Tuesday, Fire Management Officer Ric Plate said warm weather, low humidity and breezes measuring 5 to 15 miles per hour were a concern. Barring something that caused a flare-up, however, firefighters were expected to have the fire contained by this afternoon, Plate said.

Forestry Fire Prevention Officer Sharon Roesch, of the Soldotna office, said Tuesday the pile that ignited the wildfire was among trees.

Cameron had wetted the grass around the pile, Roesch said, but had not cleared a ring down to dirt as is required by her permit. Simply wetting the grass around a fire is asking for trouble, Roesch said.

“The single biggest reason for these fires is the lack of a mineral soil fire break,” she said, adding that a separate state statute requires clearing an area to dirt around such a fire.

Meanwhile, other crews responded Monday to grass fires reported at Mile 106 of the Sterling Highway, along Lovers Loop in Nikiski and at Anchor Point. Each was brought under control and left in monitored status.

A burn permit suspension went into effect Tuesday morning. Burning of brush, grass or yard debris is not allowed while the suspension is in place. Cooking and warming fires are allowed in cleared areas of dirt, sand or gravel and on beaches away from vegetation.

Fires should not be lit during windy conditions, and firefighters advise residents to be aware of fire safety rules and to establish defensible spaces around their homes.

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