A wildland fire that has been burning slowly for two months under the watchful eye of Kenai National Wildlife Refuge officials found a small ridge that took it down to Skilak Lake on Monday, pushing smoky air into Sterling, Soldotna and other central Kenai Peninsula communities.
The Pipe Creek fire started June 14 by a lightning strike on the bench area between Pipe Creek and Cottonwood Creek.
Refuge officials and the Alaska Division of Forestry decided to allow the fire to burn to improve habitat in the area south of Skilak Lake toward the eastern end of the lake.
On Monday, the fire moved to the lake and fanned out to the east and west for about one mile, according to Jim Hall, deputy refuge manager.
"To the east is OK," Hall said. "To the west is the Alaska Wildland Adventures Lodge and we're working to protect it."
The west flank of the fire is about one-quarter mile from the lodge, according to a forestry statement issued Tuesday.
Winds on Tuesday shifted the fire back onto itself, Hall said.
"We're being very careful with it," he said. "We're being safe, but we're fighting it aggressively."
In the two months it has been burning, the fire has consumed about 518 acres.
Between 15 and 20 firefighters are working to contain the fire on its western flank using bucket drops from a helicopter. A second helicopter is expected to be brought in today, along with additional firefighter resources, Hall said.
The fire continues to be monitored closely by refuge and forestry officials.
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