The Shantatalik Creek fire grew to between 8,000 and 10,000 acres as of Thursday evening, and a National Emergency Management Organization team has assumed command of the blaze which has blanketed parts of the central peninsula in smoke this week.
"They're a Type I team, which means they're the most highly qualified type of team in the country. They're going to come in and help manage the fire," said Dianne MacLean, assistant fire management officer on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, of the NEMO team.
The fire was sparked by lightning on June 29 just north of Tustumena Lake, near Fox Lake. The fire is burning in a limited suppression area, and is being managed by refuge officials to reduce hazardous accumulations of beetle-killed spruce in the area toward the Tustumena Benchlands. The fire has grown from 2,300 acres on Tuesday.
According to refuge staff, the area has not burned in approximately 100 years.
"Our feeling is all that beetle-kill timber is going to burn now, or it's going to burn later," MacLean said. "We'd like to work with this fire to get rid of some of that beetle-kill hazard now. ... We're going to try to achieve that now, and hopefully have a less hazardous situation for people in the future."
MacLean said the fire remains at least five miles south of Funny River Road, further in some areas. However, firefighters have started attacking the northern edge of the fire, near Funny River, and the western edge, to prevent the blaze from moving toward Kasilof.
"They're going to keep a close grip to those two edges, and let the fire do its thing to the east, where it's cleaning up a lot of dead beetle-kill," MacLean said.
Fire crews will have a number of resources available, including helicopters and airplanes, and will be taking measures, "to keep the fire corralled into the area we want it," MacLean said.
MacLean said the arrival of the NEMO team is "a good thing for us to have."
"We don't get this level of team in this area very often," MacLean said.
MacLean said that as of Thursday evening, there was no pans for evacuating any areas due to the fire.
"Everyone is getting prepared for any eventuality, but there's no threat of evacuation at this time," MacLean said.
Will Morrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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