Shanta Creek fire slows

Posted: Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fire crews Friday and Saturday continued their work to keep the Shantatalik Creek fire contained in the limited suppression area on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo By Will Morrow
Photo By Will Morrow
Ed Burke tries on some of the tools and gear of the wildland fire fighting trade during a tour of the Shantatalik Creek fire incidient command post at Skyview High School on Saturday. Burke was taking the tour with his mother and siblings, and was particularly interested because his father, Toby Burke, is a member of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge staff and served as a bear guard at a spike camp.

Meanwhile, the pubic was invited to get a glimpse of the incident command post at Skyview High School, set up to manage fire fighting activities.

Fire managers are releasing many of the crews and resources that have been used to establish contingency lines between the limited suppression area where the fire is burning and the full protection areas along Funny River Road on the fire's northern edge, and Kasilof on the western edge. Work along contingency lines is 80 percent complete, and the fire is being steered toward the Tustumena Bench, where it is burning in areas of beetle-killed spruce and other accumulated forest debris.

Resources still assigned to the fire include five 20-person Type 1 hotshot crews, and four 16-person Type 2 Alaska crews. Five helicopters remain working the fire. All told, 347 personnel are still assigned to the blaze, which has been mapped at 13,151 acres.

"We're downsizing," said Pete Buist, a fire information officer with the state Division of Forestry, of the number of personnel working the fire.

Buist said that the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 crews has to do with qualifications. Type 1 crews are the most highly trained and typically are full-time wildland firefighters. Type 2 crews are well trained, but go about their regular jobs until they're called up to work on a particular fire, Buist said.

"(Type 1 crews are) an elite force," Buist said. "They're the ones who are routinely put into more dangerous jobs, and the more active places on the fire."

The Alaska crews are 16 instead of 20, Buist said, due to the size of aircraft used to deploy fire crews around the state. Smaller planes are needed to access landing strips in many Bush communities.

Buist was one of several fire information officers pressed into service to give tours of the incident command post Saturday. Fire crews are bivouacked on the soccer field behind the school, and managers expressed gratitude to the school district for providing the use of the building for other functions.

A communications center is set up in the music area, and the cafeteria and kitchen are being used to feed the crews working on the fire. A supply area for fire crews has been set up behind the school, and classrooms along the main hallway have been adapted for use as a medical treatment room, an information center and a logistics center. In the school's library, technicians are working with different technology to track the fire and the resources fighting it.

Matt Gibson, a hotshot crew member, and Billy Phillips, a smoke jumper, are assigned to assist the National Incident Management Organization team from Idaho that is managing the fire response.

Gibson and Phillips, both from Missoula, Mont., earned their "Google boys" moniker for their work in using Google Earth technology to provide quick information for fire crews. They can use the satellite mapping program to pinpoint areas where fire crews are working.

"We're gathering geospacial data and getting it into the hands of firefighters as fast as possible," Gibson said.

Joe Anderson, a fire information officer with the NIMO team, said emergency responders follow a "real simple, complicated system." He said all agencies are familiar with the incident command system, allowing different responders to quickly set up a chain of command and begin to manage the incident, whether it's the Shantatalik Creek fire or the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Alaska has an established fire plan, which Buist said gives land managers guidelines for fire suppression.

"We don't have to have that conversation while the smoke is billowing," Buist said. "(The Alaska Fire Plan has) directions for how we're going to treat fires in different areas and in different conditions."

For more information on the Shantatalik Creek fire, the fire information center will remain open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. It can be reached at 907-260-2338 or 907-260-2342. Information is available by following the Shanta Creek fire link on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Web site, http://kenai.fws.gov, or the NIMO InciWeb site at www.inciweb.org/incident/1724/. To comment or ask questions, e-mail r7shanta@fws.gov.

A temporary flight restriction remains in place over the fire.

To help property owners, the borough has opened a slash disposal site on Funny River Road, near the Funny River Central Emergency Services station. Residents should check in at the station before proceeding to the slash site.

Will Morrow can be reached at will.morrow@peninsulaclarion.com.



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