Prescribed burn reignites, but fire not out of control

Posted: Friday, July 05, 2002

About 35 firefighters remained in a "defensive mode" around the Mystery Creek controlled burn Thursday some 10 miles northeast of Sterling.

"It is still a prescribed fire, there is no danger to the public. It's very low risk, and we have good control lines," Doug Newbould, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge fire management officer, said from the scene.

The fire reignited itself Sunday afternoon initially burning four acres in the 450-acre Unit 6 section of the Mystery Creek prescribed burn area.

"We couldn't catch it with the people we had on the ground, and we brought additional crews in Monday, including the state helicopter, but we couldn't hold it," Newbould said.

Dry weather conditions with 25 percent humidity and hot, 20 mph winds contributed to the fire's fast spreading.

"We had no intention of reigniting the fire until after the Fourth," he said, but the fire began controlling itself so crews decided to go into "defensive mode."

"The entire time, it has been contained within the prescribed burn plan," he said. "We now have two hand crews on the ground -- the Kenai hand crew and the Tazlina Hot Shots."

The hand crews vary in size from 16 to 20 members each, Newbould said.

"There are about 20 to 40 acres left to burn in Unit 6, so people will probably continue to see a little smoke today (Thursday)," he said. "After that, maybe just a few puffs for the next few days."

When all intended materials have been burned in the prescribed area, crews will begin putting out the fire on all of the perimeter areas to ensure "we have a good, cold black line around it," he said. "We will have people here monitoring the area until the fire is out."

Two engine companies from the wildlife refuge will remain on site patrolling for about two weeks after the fire is completely out.

"Then we'll switch to aerial monitoring," Newbould said.

The Mystery Creek prescribed burn is part of a Kenai National Wildlife Refuge control burn program designed to reduce fuel build-up that could contribute to major wildfires in the future and to improve habitat for moose and other wildlife. One of the goals is to expose mineral soil, encouraging hardwood regeneration for moose browse.

Newbould said earlier that the refuge is attempting to convert the area from a predominantly black spruce forest to "at least a mixed-hardwood forest."

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