Prescribed burn goes beyond lines near Kenai Lake

Posted: Wednesday, June 27, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A prescribed fire along the north shore of Kenai Lake has pushed beyond its planned boundaries and authorities are responding with nearly 300 firefighters as gusts to 25 mph are expected to push the blaze east toward the Seward Highway, about seven miles away.

Further north, two fires in the Tanana Flats south of Fairbanks slowed on Tuesday as temperatures dropped and humidity rose. But new mapping showed those blazes had charred 170,000 acres.

The Trail River campground on Kenai Lake near the Seward Highway was evacuated as a precaution Monday night, said Gary Lehnhausen, a fire information officer for the Chugach National Forest, but residents in area homes weren't asked to get out. A private cabin about three miles east of the fire was the nearest structure.

About a dozen people were working to fell timber Tuesday along Schilter Creek, which flows south into the lake and forms a natural barrier about two miles west of the highway. Helicopters were dropping water on the blaze.

The bulk of the fire crews are expected in the next day or so, Lehnhausen said Tuesday. Officials decided late Monday to call in firefighters to stop the flames from spreading too far.

The prescribed fire was started June 15, intended to reduce fire loading and improve habitat across 1,100 acres dotted with beetle-killed spruce, Lehnhausen said.

But there hasn't been any significant rain for a month, and the fire has moved beyond the planned burn area to char about 800 acres where burning wasn't intended.

Firefighters on two fires on the Tanana Flats got a chance to catch up Tuesday as the weather cooled, fire officials said.

''Our fires were pretty well-behaved,'' said Andy Williams of the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

But the Survey Line Fire on Fort Wainwright grew to 103,000 acres, and the Fish Creek Fire near Anderson was mapped at 69,813 acres Monday night.

More than 300 firefighters continued to work on the Fish Creek Fire, said Pete Buist of the state forestry division.

Among them were three who had a rough landing when the helicopter carrying them made an emergency landing after the aircraft developed engine problems about 7 p.m. Tuesday, Buist said. No one was injured when the helicopter went down a few miles east of the Parks Highway along the western edge of the fire. The pilot was able to land in a clearing, but both the rotors were damaged. The Bell 212 was being operated under a contract with Evergreen Helicopters of Alaska.

No rain fell on the fire, said Buist, but the humidity came up and the temperature dropped as a front passed over. As a result, the blaze didn't make any significant runs on Tuesday. Winds were still blowing from the west, but were generally less than 10 mph, he said.

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