As the cool Sunday morning temperatures began to rise in the early evening, the relative humidity dropped and the Shanta Creek fire began showing signs of activity. Fire behavior increased in pockets of the fire's perimeter heavily populated with beetle kill, in particular on the southeast and northeast sides.
Prior to the increased activity, for the last 36 hours, fire crews had seen no significant change in the fire as of Sunday afternoon.
"There's not much change there as far as activity," said Bernie Pineda, fire information officer for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. "We're happy about that."
The fire is not consuming large sections of the forest, but rather moving gradually eastward. According to Pineda, there are two "fingers" of the fire still burning and spreading, though, doing so at a slow pace. One is burning at the north end of the fire's perimeter and the other at the south end. Both fingers are heading eastbound, following vegetation, which is fueling the flames.
"That's where most of the heat is at," Pineda said. "It's not running anywhere."
The fire still remains within federal lands on the refuge. No homes are in danger at this point. Public travel on all roadways is open and will remain open for the foreseeable future, Pineda said.
Currently, four fire suppression crews are working together to contain the flames. On the north side of the perimeter, one crew is heading east while another is heading west.
With the help of bulldozers, crews are digging fire suppression lines, 20 to 30 feet wide, to contain the fire within federal lands. All vegetation is being stripped away, leaving only soil behind.
"We're peeling off the vegetation. You can't burn a stone," Pineda said.
A similar project is taking place on the perimeter's west side.
Crews, too, are working from opposite directions heading toward each other, digging a fire line. They are incorporating natural features, such as a wet bog, in the fire line. The bog is about four to five miles in length.
"We'll use whatever features we can use to our advantage at this point," Pineda said.
The end of the fire line will run from Coal Creek Lake to Funny River Road, he said.
"That will be our anchoring point for the west side."
Should the fire start spreading north, a situation the refuge doesn't want to occur, the fire line will protect nearby homes. It will also serve as an easy-to-spot target from the sky should aircraft have to be used to suppress the fire, Pineda said.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough's Office of Emergency Management is continuing to develop a contingency plan should the fire move north and threaten built-up areas.
Pineda estimated crews will be working on the fire lines for the next couple of days.
"We got a lot of work to do," he said.
More than 400 firefighters and personnel are working together to mitigate the situation.
The fire, which has now grown to more than 12,000 acres, was ignited by a lightning strike north of Tustemena Lake on June 29. The fire remains more than 10 miles southeast of Soldotna.
A temporary flight restriction remains in place. The ban restricts private aircraft from flying within a five-mile radius of the fire perimeter below an altitude of 5,000 feet. Pilots can contact the Federal Aviation Administration for more information on the restriction. The ban will remain in place until further notice.
Fire information is available by calling 260-2338 or 260-2342 between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. or by visiting the refuge Web site at http://kenai.fws.gov and clicking on the Shanta Creek fire link. Questions can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike Nesper can be reached at email@example.com.
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