Let it rain: Wet weather keeps Shanta Creek fire from growing

Posted: Monday, July 20, 2009

Thanks in large part to the recent rainy weather, the Shantatalik Creek fire hasn't grown in the past 72 hours, remaining at 13,151 acres.

"I don't see a whole lot of torching with the (precipitation) that we've got," said Bernie Pineda, fire information officer for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. "We've still got some hot spots scattered around the southeast side."

Though infrared imaging has indicated certain areas within the fire boundary that are still harboring some heat, it's in the direction of the Tustumena Bench.

"That's the direction we want it to go anyway," Pineda said.

That area contains large portions of beetle-killed spruce. Allowing it to burn, which is part of the fire management strategy, will not only rid the area of the beetle kill, but also enhance wildlife habitat quality.

With rainy weather forecasted for the next few days and a low-pressure system coming through the central Kenai Peninsula, chances of a major fire being sparked are slim.

"I don't think it will be a real big issue or problem," Pineda said. "That is good news."

Over the last few days, there's been a reduction of fire-related resources. On Sunday, the five Type 1 hotshot crews were transported to Anchorage and flown to Mazula, Montana.

Type 1 team members' names will be submitted for demobilization, then it's up to the National Interagency Coordination Center to decide where they might go next.

The NICC, located in Boise, Idaho, is the central hub for organizing the mobilization of resources for wildland fires and other related incidents throughout the United States.

All Type 1 crew members were brought up from the Lower 48 to assist with the Shanta Creek fire. The rest of the fire-fighting personnel came from in state, Pineda said.

The downsizing of personnel and resources is being done in preparation to turn fire-fighting efforts over the refuge. Pineda said the goal is to have the refuge take over on Wednesday.

Currently, fire managers are working to ensure the refuge has everything it needs prior to the turnover. Two crews will be available for the refuge to utilize as well as the necessary resources and equipment to maintain the fire, Pineda said.

As of Sunday, crews were working to complete digging contingency lines, which are being constructed to keep the fire within federal lands.

"We're at about 80 percent completion of the work to be done before we turn this back over to the refuge," Pineda said. "We don't have anybody out on the perimeter itself."

As far as the likelihood of the fire picking up, with the predicted wet weather for the week, that's not a major concern.

"It's very minimal at this point," Pineda said. "Nothing that's going to cause a whole lot of heartburn. All is well that hopefully will end well, which it will."

The Kenai Peninsula Borough's Office of Emergency Management lifted its level 1 evacuation notice Saturday for the Funny River Road area. The borough also opened a slash disposal site on Funny River Road, near the Funny River Central Emergency Services station.

Residents can drop off wood slash and wood debris only. No tires, trash or chemical disposal is permitted.

Residents must first check in at the station prior to going to the slash site. The site is open every day from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

A temporary flight restriction remains in place over the fire.

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 click on the Shanta Creek fire link. Questions can be e-mailed to r7shanta@fws.gov.

Mike Nesper can be reached at mike.nesper@peninsulaclarion.com.

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