Meeting calms fears on fire

Posted: Saturday, August 28, 2004

A public information meeting held at Tustumena Elementary School on Friday put to rest many fears that the small, but concerned, group of citizens in attendance had about about the ongoing Glacier Creek Fire.

Division of Forestry officials reported that the cause of the fire, which began Aug. 14, is still under investigation, but as of Friday had burned more than 7,400 acres predominantly in the area at the northeast end of Tustumena Lake.

"Our fire management plan is limited suppression, which is where we monitor the situation and take action where we need to," said Ric Plate, a fire management officer with Forestry.

Plate explained that the limited suppression plan is in the lowest level of suppression action. The other three fire management plans in ascending order based on priority include modified protection, full protection and critical protection.

"The limited suppression plan is based on several factors," Plate said.

These factors include the remote location of the fire, it's hazard and fuel (beetle kill) reduction value, it's rejuvenation effects on the ecosystem from nutrients added as well as from vegetative regrowth, a desire to keep suppression cost minimal, and to ensure public and firefighter safety.

"Much of this fire is a surface fire, burning down six to 12 inches into the duff, moving at a moderate rate of speed and consuming some aerial fuels," said Incident Commander Vean Noble.

Showers and up to half inch of rain reported near the northern end of Tustumena Lake on Friday dampened fire activity, but not significantly.

Most of the perimeter of the fire remains active and observers said the western edge of the fire, from the lake to Moose Creek, showed isolated torching and ground fire.

Noble said the only areas where the fire shows signs of dying down are in the flats and north of Green Lake in the higher elevation.

Firefighters are monitoring two private cabins and three U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cabins that are close to the fire and already have structure protection in place.

Structure protection was reported to be going well around several cabins in the Bear Creek area, and phase one which involves fuel reduction and placing sprinklers and hoses around the cabins was expected to be complete by late Friday.

Noble said phase two which will involve creating a break between the Bear Creek subdivision and the fire was expected to begin Saturday and is expected to take four to five days.

"The fire is seven to eight miles away from Bear Creek. I don't think it's a strong possibility that it will reach there, but we have to prepare like it will," Noble said.

He added that he's expecting to see a continued growth in the fire, but this late in the fire season, a major seven-, eight- or nine-mile run is unlikely.

"My best guess would be a possible northwest trend," Noble said. In which case, he said residents in Soldotna, Funny River and Sterling shouldn't be surprised if they see smoke.

"This fire could smolder for weeks and may not be completely out until October," Noble said.

"Time and resources are on our side, though. The nights are getting longer, the humidity in increasing, and rain and generally moister conditions are likely," he added.

Jim Hall, deputy refuge manager for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, used the public meeting to explain the concerted effort being made to keep hunters out of the area.

"It's for their own safety and the safety of the rescue crews that would have to go in after them if they got into trouble," Hall said.

The Bear Creek, Emma Lake and Moose Lake trails remain closed. Entry into hunting areas north of the fire on the Tustumena benchlands is strongly discouraged.

Citizens who attended the meeting voiced their opinion over the fire and its suppression plan. Accolades like "amazing" and inspiring" were used repeatedly to describe the efforts of suppression teams working around cabins or, in some cases, side by side with cabins owners.

For more information on the Glacier Creek Fire, contact Sharon Roesch or Christa Cady Hippchen at 260-4222, or by e-mail at sharonr@dnr.state.ak.us.



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