Rain falling in the past several days has decreased fire activity at the Glacier Creek Fire near Tustumena Lake and prompted the reopening of one area trail, the Alaska Division of Forestry reported Thursday.
Bear Creek Trail has been reopened to hunters and other members of the public. However, the Emma Lake and Moose Creek trails remain closed.
About 48 firefighters continued work to protect cabins in the region, though the fire seems to have stopped spreading for the time being, Forestry spokesperson Sharon Roesch said Thursday.
The fire, which was reported Aug. 14, has burned some 8,600 acres, driven by uncommon dry weather and varying winds blowing off Tustumena Glacier. In the past three weeks, it has sent heavy smoke into central peninsula communities, prompting air quality warnings for residents. It also has threatened several public-use and private cabins in the backwoods.
At the peak of the fire, about 52 crew members were working to control the blaze. Much of that work was defensive, though, as the fire is in a limited suppression area. Roesch said firefighters included a Type 1 Hot Shots crew from Prineville, Ore., a Type 2 crew from Kaltag, about five firefighters "on loan" from the U.S. Forest Service, four crew members from the Division of Forestry and seven or eight workers with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. In addition, several state and refuge employees supported firefighters by transporting supplies.
The fire location was designated as "limited suppression" because it threatened few structures, could have been dangerous to fight aggressively and was littered with beetle-killed spruce and other fuels that needed to burn to create healthier forest lands.
Firefighters primarily worked to clear defensible space and build fire breaks around cabins, including five private structures in the Bear Creek area; the Bear Creek Lodge's four commercial buildings and nine outbuildings; the Emma Lake public-use cabin; the Sauna, another public-use cabin near Pipe Creek; and three private cabins near Indian Creek. A helicopter attack crew with Forestry also went to two cabins near Harvey Lake to clear defensible space, Roesch said.
Firefighters did take a couple of offensive positions during the course of the fire, Roesch said. Firefighters lit a back-fire outside the fire break near the Taylor Cabin, and a crew spent one day practicing using an aircraft to scoop water from Tustumena Lake and drop it on the west end of the blaze.
Throughout the course of firefighting, no structures were damaged and only one firefighter suffered a minor hand injury, though not from the fire itself.
As of Thursday morning, Forestry reported that the fire no longer seemed to be growing. Rain had dampened fuel sources, and a light wind was blowing the fire back into itself. Crews were wrapping up work around Bear Creek-area cabins and were expected to be released from service today. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is expected to take over monitoring the fire this weekend.
Roesch said the future of the fire will depend on weather, but the area is expected to continue burning and smoldering for some time.
"If we get heavy, heavy rain for a week or so, it could put it out, but it is burning pretty deep. We don't expect it to be completely out until it snows," she said.
She warned that if the skies dry out again, the central peninsula could see more smoke as the fire smolders throughout the fall.
"The smoke that did affect residents who have a hard time breathing, that's unfortunate," she said.
However, she noted that the fire itself probably will prove beneficial for habitat.
"The refuge was hoping that, without endangering anyone, it would get some renewal of habitat out there," she said. "They did get about 8,000 acres of removed fuels. It should have good regrowth, and that would be real positive."
The fire danger index has been upgraded to "low," though permits still are required for open burning through Sept. 30. Permits are available in fire service areas, including Soldotna, Kenai, Nikiski, Homer and Anchor Point. Those living outside service areas should seek permits from the Forestry office off its Web site. Permit holders still must call in fires on the day of a burn.
The cause of the Glacier Creek Fire remains under investigation.
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