Mystery Hills, Thurman fires slowing

Posted: Monday, July 02, 2001

After nearly doubling in acreage on Friday, the Mystery Hills Fire north of Hidden Lake and the Sterling Highway has slowed over the weekend.

"Mystery Hills is creeping," said Mindy Sherrieb, incident information officer for the interagency fire management team working the blaze.

"There's active fire along the north northwest portion, and there was a small run on the northeast portion, but it didn't get far."

The fire went from 700 acres to 1,300 on Friday, pushed by strong southwesterly winds.

She said the humidity Saturday night was 90 percent.

"The people out monitoring it, their comment was it really laid down, it didn't do anything," she said.

The humidity was still above 50 percent Sunday afternoon.

The 1,300-acre fire was started late Thursday afternoon by lightning. There are 162 firefighters on the scene, about three miles north of the Sterling Highway at Mile 62. There is no immediate estimate when the fire will be contained, which means its progress has been halted, or controlled, meaning it is out.

"We've been doing a lot of indirect work, not so much on the fire itself," Sherrieb said.

Much of that is preparing fire breaks and areas where backfires might be set, if the fire is fought in that manner.

Sherrieb said the incident commander is weighing several options and planned to discuss them with area residents at the Sterling Senior Center Sunday night.

The ORCA fire crew, from Oregon and California, are comprised of people from eight different agencies. Sherrieb, herself, is an employee of the state of Oregon. The team is under contract to the Alaska Division of Forestry.

Forestry's KC-97 tanker has dropped about 10 loads of fire retardant on the blaze, mostly to slow advances and give firefighters more time to prepare breaks.

"It really only gains you time," Sherrieb said. "Retardant does not stop a fire, it just gives you time to get people in."

The crash Friday night of a semi carrying fire retardant to the Kenai Municipal Airport did not hamper aerial bombing efforts, she said.

"But it would have if the fire had gotten up and ran."

Meanwhile, the Thurman Fire, northeast of the Mystery Hills Fire, continues to smolder atop a tundra-covered knob.

The 15-acre fire was also thought to have been ignited by lightning Thursday.

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