Current weather

  • Scattered clouds
  • 54°
    Scattered clouds

Fighting for control

Crews struggle to tame raging Caribou Hills fire

Posted: Sunday, June 24, 2007

 

Back | Next
  A Canadair CL-215 "Duck" planer flies just above the trees to drop a load of water on a section of the Caribou Hills fire on Friday afternoon. Two of these planes, which scoop water from lakes as they skim the surface, are working the fire in conjunction with other fixed and rotary wing aircraft. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Gary Wright of the Denali Hot Shots, an elite firefighting squad, monitors an area of land his crew burned around structures alongside Oil Well Road in Ninilchik. The crew cleared area around the buildings to prevent the wildfire from reaching them.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

A thunderhead of thick smoke loomed over Caribou Hills on Friday. Firefighters clad in green and yellow nomex and hardhats waited at the staging area off Oil Well Road to be called into action. Red and yellow Canadian Duck planes dipped below the trees, scooped up Deep Creek water and soared back to the fire. Not a mile distant flames torched a dead spruce in a flash of orange and a plume of black smoke.

 

Ezra Gibson of the Denali Hot Shots uses a hose to wet down an igloo-shaped outbuilding at Caribou Hills Adventures on Oil Well Road on Friday afternoon. Hundreds of buildings were threatened by the massive blaze and emergency workers labored from one structure to the next to open a defensible space against the approaching fire.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

At 50,000 acres, firefighters aren’t able to get on top of the Caribou Hills fire that’s burned approximately 30 residences and 40 outbuildings since Tuesday. Cheryl Larsen, fire information officer for the Alaska Division of Forestry, said firefighters’ main objective at this point is to keep the fire from creeping westward along the Deep Creek area and to determine how many structures are still standing and prevent those from going up in flames.

“(We’re) increasing new cabin protection beyond the established perimeter of the fire,” Larsen said. “(We’re also) putting in dozer lines and cooling down blackened areas around standing cabins.”

 

A dead spruce tree goes up in flames like a giant candle. Hot, dry weather has put much of the state at risk of wildfires.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Larsen said the current weather is helping to slow the fire down, but it would take a substantial rain storm to dampen the flames.

The following are comments from firefighters at the scene:

“Firefighters are working with the resources they have, targeting the greatest potential threats and putting their concentrated efforts there.”

— Cheryl Larsen, fire information

officer for the Division of Forestry

“The team drove right through the line. You could hardly see in front of you.”

— William Vanderpool, a type two

firefighter from Nikolai

 

Firefighters from Nondalton rest while waiting to be shuttled closer to the fire on Friday after working from a staging area off Oil Well Road. Crews from across the state are working the fire burning in the Caribou Hills east of Ninilchik.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

“At what point is it going to move this way? I’ve been progressively taking photos and I can see it moving in every direction. It’s much bigger than it’s containable.”

— Michelle Holley, real estate agent for Coastal Realty

 

A wall of fire consumes dead spruce trees in the Caribou Hills. Thousands of acres of the trees, killed by spruce bark beetles, make attractive fuel.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

“When we first got up there, we were just working the line when the fire jumped Deep Creek. We were stuck between two channels of fire, one on the east side, one on the west side, doing cabin protection after it jumped the creek.”

— Earl Balluta, a type two crew chief

from Nondalton

 

Smoke from fire caps a hillside like a ring of snow. Firefighters have been concentrating their efforts on protecting structures and minimizing damage to a Homer Electric Association transmission line.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

“It was scorching hot, especially when the dried spruce would flare up. We just had handkerchiefs we’d put water on ’cause the smoke was so thick and hot.”

— Dean Osmar, whose son, Tim, shattered his ankle and broke his leg trying to save his cabins

“We’re ready to kick this thing in the butt if it comes over the hill at us. We’re very proactive in dealing with this.”

— Assistant Fire Chief Dean Thoemke of the Homer Volunteer Fire Department

 

A firefighter from the Denali Hot Shots crew is dwarfed by flames Friday afternoon as he uses a fuse to ignite grass near a structure that his Fairbanks-based crew was fighting to protect from the Caribou Hills fire burning east of Ninilchik.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

“(The fire) burned all night (Thursday) and didn’t stop.”

— Kris Eriksen, fire information officer from the Division of Forestry

 

A Canadair CL-215 "Duck" planer flies just above the trees to drop a load of water on a section of the Caribou Hills fire on Friday afternoon. Two of these planes, which scoop water from lakes as they skim the surface, are working the fire in conjunction with other fixed and rotary wing aircraft.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

“We thought we were OK until the wind shifted. We’ll definitely rebuild. We’re optimistic, we did a lot of weed whacking and bulldozing.”

— Bill and Rose Sirois, who have had a recreational cabin in Caribou Hills for five years

 

A motorist returns to Ninilchik after law enforcement officers from Alaska Parks department turned him around at a roadblock at the end of the pavement on Oil Well Road on Friday evening. Kris Eriksen, a spokesperson from the Alaska Division of Forestry, said people were not being let into the area after it had been evacuated, adding that she had received calls from some who had not left and regretted it.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

“The communication is poor at best. (Forestry) told it all in five minutes. There’s no accurate info, (it’s) not up to the minute.”

— Michelle Holley said, talking about Thursday’s public meeting in Ninilchik

“I had a cabin, I’m pretty sure it burned yesterday. It’s my moose cabin I’ve had it for 20 years. If it didn’t burn it was a miracle because there’s fire all around it.”

— Homer Police Chief Mark Robl

 

A column of smoke rises above an active line of the fire as it burns through the Caribou Hills as seen from an aircraft flying at 3,100 feet. The Federal Aviation Administration has issued special flight restrictions for pilots flying in the area due to the high number aircraft working the fire and the limited visibility from smoke.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

“You can sit here and watch it moving. It’s huge. It’s just a huge fire.”

— Dawn Cabana, who owns a cabin on Caribou Lake

Homer News reporter Michael Armstrong contributed to this story.

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.



CONTACT US

  • 150 Trading Bay Rd, Kenai, AK 99611
  • Switchboard: 907-283-7551
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-283-3584
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Business Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-335-1257
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback

ADVERTISING

SUBSCRIBER SERVICES

SOCIAL NETWORKING

MORRIS ALASKA NEWS