Fire cools down

Blaze near Skilak Lake hasn't spread

Posted: Sunday, July 03, 2005

Calm air and high humidity assisted nine ground crews making progress against the wildfire near Skilak Lake on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Friday and Saturday.

"It's been a quiet day," said Kevin Koechlein, fire information officer on Friday.

Officials also said there was no significant change in the size of the area burned, which had been mapped at approximately 10,300 acres.

At a public meeting at the Sterling Senior Center on Saturday, King County Creek fire incident commander Tony Doty said crews have created a strong fire line to the north and west of the fire and were preparing to burn further south along a small neck of forest on the fire's western edge.

Doty cautioned residents that the fire danger is not over yet.

"I'm not saying it's contained, because it isn't," he said.

However, he said managers are happy with the progress they've made and the fire's current status.

"Things are looking pretty good," he said.

Doty said the fire is still the state's highest-priority fire. He also noted that Sterling and Funny River residents are likely to experience continued smoky conditions for a while — perhaps into the fall.

"You're going to see some smoke coming up for a good part of the summer, at least until we get some heavy rains," he said.

Meanwhile near the fire's front lines, fire crews were being given special instructions by a refuge biologist to be on the lookout for bears, according to Koechlein.

"We expect the bears will find the fire (break) line we've made. They like walking on the line," he said.

Crews are working with an armed bear guard and being trained on keeping a clean camp, moving away from an area after they've eaten a meal and other bear safety measures.

Koechlein said crews have not had any run-ins with bears yet, but anticipate increased bear activity as the fire cools down.

"They're curious," he said.

Two air tankers that had been dropping water on the fire were diverted for a time Friday to work on the Buy Lake fire near Tustumena Lake.

According to Sharon Roesch, state Forestry fire prevention officer, at least 11 lightning-caused fires were started on the peninsula during last week's storms. Of those, she said Saturday that four are out, five are being monitored and two — the King County Creek Fire and the 8.2-acre Buy Lake Fire 10 miles southeast of Soldotna — are being actively staffed.

The Buy Lake Fire was discovered June 30. Roesch said it is not growing in size and is in a very remote, unpopulated area.

Lightning is unusual on the peninsula, although Roesch said it's become more of a threat the last few years.

"Lightning is about two percent of the fires we have normally," she said.

"In the last three or four years we've averaged four a year," she said.

Forestry officials closed the lower Skilak Lake boat ramp Wednesday afternoon and planned to keep it closed while air operations continue.

They also requested that a temporary no-fly zone be established near the fire area to keep the skies clear for firefighting aircraft. Updates on the fire can be heard on the burn permit-fire information line at 260-4269.

Clarion reporter Matt Tunseth contributed to this story.

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