The smoke is clearing, the highway is open and the Fourth of July festivities are definitely a "go" in Seward.
"We're ready. It's gorgeous weather. Everyone is gearing up," said Julie Tauriainen, executive director of the Seward Chamber of Commerce. "We had tons of people in town this weekend."
Many seemed to be early arrivals for the Fourth, she said. The fun starts tonight with fireworks at 11:50 p.m. The Mount Marathon junior race begins Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., followed by the women's race at 11:15 a.m. and the men's race at 3 p.m. The parade will be Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., and children's games run from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.
Marti Garrett, chamber events coordinator, said the wind was blowing from the south Monday and no longer wafting smoke from the Kenai Lake fire into Seward.
"There's been a vast improvement in the smoke the last week. To the west, there's no haze at all. You can see Mount Alice," she said. "Last week, it was very noticeable. It was almost foggy with the smoke."
Tauriainen said the chamber's goal with respect to the fire has been combating rumors that the Seward Highway would close. It never became necessary to close the highway, though firefighters did close the Trail Lakes Campground. Last weekend, cooler temperatures and higher humidity slowed the fire. Firefighters expected to have it 100 percent contained on Monday.
At its peak, the fire had noticeable effects on the Seward visitor industry.
Lynda Martin, sales and marketing manager for the Harborview Inn, said that from Wednesday through Saturday, the hotel took some reservation cancellations.
"It's affected business mildly," she said. "They didn't ask any questions. They said they were canceling because of medical conditions -- people with asthma and emphysema."
Martin also runs a bed-and-breakfast of her own.
"I got a cancellation July 3 and 4 because the mother has asthma," she said. "They just didn't feel comfortable coming to the Kenai at all."
But Seward is not nearly as smoky as it was, she said.
"There was one point last week where you couldn't see across the bay. You couldn't see Alice. You couldn't see Fox Island. You couldn't see anything," she said.
Jillian Simpson, marketing coordinator for the Alaska SeaLife Center, said visitor counts there from Monday through Friday were down almost 3 percent from the week before, though the number for June as a whole was up from last year. About 1,500 visitors typically visit the center each Saturday, she said, but last Saturday, the count was just 1,133.
Jim Ireland, the ranger who handles visitor fees for Kenai Fjords National Park, said visitor counts seemed to be down at Exit Glacier last week, though accurate numbers were not immediately available.
However, visitor numbers fluctuate, he and Simpson said, and it is impossible to say whether the fire actually caused the dip last week.
Dot Bardarson, owner of Bardarson Studio, said she noticed no drop in her business.
"Our revenues are up. June has been a great month," she said.
The studio draws on cruise ship business, she said, and more ships are visiting Seward this year than last.
But last week, the smoke was bad, she said.
"The tears were just streaming down my face if I went outside," she said.
Last Wednesday, the smoke dimmed the sun to a weird orange glow, she said.
Monday, though, the sky was blue, she said.
There was no indication that the fire would affect Fourth of July festivities.
"I'm looking forward to watching my grandson run the Mount Marathon race and doing well. He's 14," Bardarson said.
She expects the studio to be busy.
"We'll be bustling after the races are over, from 4:30 on," she said.
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