Persistent fires and the continuing dry weather led Gov. Frank Murkowski to announce late Monday he would activate 53 Air National Guard troops to support fire suppression efforts on the Kenai Peninsula and in the Interior.
In addition, Murkowski is sending an Air National Guard UH60 Black Hawk helicopter and a C-23 Sherpa fixed-wing aircraft to the peninsula to help with the Glacier Creek Fire, now raging within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, and two more UH60s will be sent to Fort Wainwright, where they would be available to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources if needed, said Murkowski spokes-person Becky Hultberg.
"The National Guard units can be activated for two weeks," Hultberg said. "There was a similar call-up earlier in the summer when about 90 troops, six helicopters, two fixed-wing aircraft and several heavy trucks were called up to fires in the Interior."
Efforts to suppress the growing Glacier Creek fire aren't being helped by the continuing hot and dry conditions and the presence of large stands of beetle-killed spruce, Hultberg said.
In a press release Monday afternoon, the Division of Forestry reported that glacial winds from the southeast had increased fire behavior on the northern perimeter of the blaze Sunday evening, sending smoke drifting down Tustumena Lake into Kasilof and Soldotna. The fire crossed Indian Creek about one mile upstream from the lake, increasing in size by about 150 acres to an estimated 1,650 acres.
"The fire, which picks up steam in pockets of beetle killed spruce and slows down in stands of hardwoods, is spreading generally to the northwest," the division release said. "The smoke column is visible from east and south of Soldotna on Monday afternoon."
Firefighters have set up sprinkler systems and periodically wet vegetation around cabins and outbuildings near the mouth of Indian Creek, the division said. Those systems will remain in place in case the fire approaches the cabins.
Currently, Emma Lake and Moose Creek trails are closed to access into the Tustumena benchlands, and hunters and hikers are discouraged from entering the area from other avenues, the division said.
As of Monday afternoon, the head of the fire was about nine miles from the cabins at the mouth of Bear Creek. Cabin owners with buildings along the lakeshore were being permitted to go to their properties to improve defensible spaces around structures. The division is recommending that flammable vegetation be removed from roofs.
Hardwood trees may be left standing, but surface fuels should be cleared and lower limbs pruned from spruce trees 50 to 100 feet out from a structure depending on the density of the surrounding forest and slope of the terrain, the division said. Large spruce trees should be felled only if the brush can be moved away to a safe location.
The division also suspended burning permits late Monday afternoon, due to high wind and drought conditions that have existed most of this summer.
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