Pockets of fire in deep forest duff continue to flare up in Swan Lake Fire

Aug 15, 2019

Smoke tendrils rise from hotspots near the Skyline Trail on Monday. Hot, dry weather is breathing new life into the smoldering fire. The Division of Forestry continues to monitor the fire and is using helicopter water drops to cool the hotspots down.
Credit Jenny Neyman/KDLL

The 160-square-mile Swan Lake Fire that scorched the black spruce forest and muskeg northeast of Sterling this summer is still holding on. Only 16 firefighters are currently assigned to Swan Lake, most in reseeding and repair work, however helicopters are still in use to cool off hot spots that pop up.
This week several such flare-ups occurred on the hillside above the Sterling Highway near Upper Jean Lake and the Skyline Trail.
“Mostly it's been interior islands and green fuel that are just burning out, hasn't had too much activity on the perimeter. Most of most of the big columns that we saw came out of the interiors of fire,” said Brentwood Reed, the current incident commander on the Swan Lake Fire. “We do have a couple areas that along the perimeter that still have activity and in the Servant Creek drainage and Mystery Creek drainage and the Dry Creek drainage.
“We've also got some fire on the hillside on the south facing slope, Mystery Hills, that’s backing down towards Sterling Highway above Upper Jean Lake. And then that area right there we're putting some helicopter bucket drops on it. It's very steep, rugged country. And we just want to put some bucket drops on that to prevent it from getting down to the highway.”
He said the hot, clear, and long summer days, which are now waning, contributed greatly to the fire’s previously vigorous activity.
“Since we are so late in the season, and we've had all this drying throughout the season, the deep duff layers have getting really dry. Our drought codes are very high, so the fire is burning really deep, and it's hard to put out,” Reed said. “And until we get a substantial amount of rain, that's going to continue to burn in that detail.
“The reason the fires aren't making large runs is because it's not near as hot as it was, and the days are much shorter. So we don't really have the spread conditions right now for that extreme fire behavior.”
Reed said firefighters will remain on the fire until the job is done.
“They're going to be monitoring this fire until a significant season-ending event brings precipitation that will penetrate those deep layers. Right now, the word a lot of the state is getting rain for the forecast for the peninsula here. We've been in a shadow from that rain and we've had this great high pressure system over the Gulf,” he said. “So for the next 10 days, we don't see any rain coming. Hopefully after that, we'll start to get that Southwest low that typically brings rain and then season ending event to Alaska every autumn.”
The Swan Lake Fire is 102,584 acres in size. It was started by lightening on June 5th. At its peak, over 500 firefighters battled the blaze.
A burn ban remains in effect for the Kenai Peninsula Borough.