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Rain, cool temps slow East Fork fire

Photo: Lakota Burwell/Alaska Fire Service


Thanks to some rain and cooler temperatures, the East Fork fire is becoming a slow burn.

Today, officials were set to scan the fire from the air with infrared sensors to detect any hot spots on the southern and eastern edges of the fire, which are closest to Sterling and the Sterling Highway, though still about 4 miles away. Crews were also working today to extend a fuel break along a utility corridor that’s home to an Enstar natural gas line.


Mike Hill, the assistant fire management officer at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, says this has been a good opportunity to put in some work breaking up the long, uninterrupted stands of black spruce.


“That is what we call the problem fuel type in Alaska. It has the capability, fire does, to move through black spruce rapidly, causing dramatic fire behavior. It’s the big, scary fire behavior that people remember from the Funny River and the Card Street fires. When fire moves through black spruce, it causes a lot of smoke and flame and it moves fast. ... When we get a new fire and it’s in black spruce, that sets our awareness level high.”


With nearly 150 personnel on the scene and little fire action happening elsewhere in the state, this is as good a time as any to get some chainsaws out and try to thin out that massive fuel source, while also letting the fire do some of the heavy lifting. It’s far more efficient at clearing trees than anything else we’ve come up with. But that, too, comes with challenges. The East Fork Fire is burning within the refuge, but there are other agencies and organizations, like Enstar and Cook Inlet Region, Inc., which owns land in the area, that all have to work together on management plans of this scale.


“Fire has the potential to move across jurisdictions. It doesn’t recognize political boundaries. We identify the places it can do good, but it also goes the direction on a landscape scale where it’s identified it can do those good things.”


The fire has leveled out over the past couple days but crews are still prepping for a potential burnout operation if things begin to heat up again toward the Sterling area. A flight restriction is still in effect over the fire area, which remains at 1,016 acres.


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