Cool, rainy weekend helps temper Swan Lake fire

Sep 3, 2019


Firefighters have been putting in hose lays throughout the fire zone to protect public use cabins in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Chugach National Forest.
Credit Alaska Division of Forestry

A cool weekend with some scattered rain showers helped slow the progress of the Swan Lake fire. Total acreage count remained steady over the weekend at about 160,000 and more than 700 personnel remain on the fire.

As Great Basin management team operations chief Jeff Surber explains, those conditions are allowing crews to focus on expanding mop up operations closer to Skilak Lake as containment near Sterling grows.

“They still patrol those contained lines just to make sure no smoke pops up that they’re unaware of. They watch the backdoor all the time and make sure that there’s nothing sneaking out back in these areas that they consider to be pretty well cold. What they’re doing at the (Skilak) campground is still just picking up any heat. We’ve had southeast winds prevailing with this rain so basically, they’re making sure there’s nothing that can sneak out with that southeast push.”

Across the region, between two-tenths and half an inch of rain fell the past few days. While that’s not enough to put the fire out, it is a welcome break for crews working in some remote areas, including doing structure protection out on Skilak Lake.

“They’re doing the same thing around the Upper Skilak Lake campground. They’re going to launch a boat there, take it to Doroshin Bay cabin with 10 folks. They’re called a Fire Use Module. They can go in, they can stay in this area (unsupported) and they can wait for this fire that wants to come south. It’s just a creeping fire that’s coming south towards the cabin. They’ll either wait for the fire to come right to them and just spray water on it. Or if it gets up and wants to move faster, they may build a little line and burn out just as the fire reaches them.”

Helicopters have been assisting those remote teams, especially south of the Sterling highway where crews are still working near Surprise Creek to keep the fire from spreading into Cooper Landing from the south and west.

“They are pushing their way up from the Kenai river. They take boats across the river at Russian ferry every day, they hike up the Surprise Creek trail and get to the upper end of what’s considered as far as they’re going to go towards Bear mountain. (They’re using) bucket drops in the upper elevations where they can’t pull hose all the way up there and push it with pumps out of the creek.” 

The result of all that work, with a little help from Mother Nature, is a downgrading of alert status in both Cooper Landing and Sterling. The Sterling highway is also now open without any pilot cars, except for those still working in construction zones. Community meetings in Sterling and Cooper Landing are/were scheduled for Tuesday night at 6.