Swan Lake Fire and temperature inversion force Sterling Highway closure

Jun 21, 2019

Traffic backed up eastbound on the Sterling Highway Friday morning due to poor visibility which caused Alaska State Troopers to close the road for a time.
Credit Alaska Division of Forestry

  Smoke from the Swan Lake Fire conspired with the weather this (Friday) morning and forced authorities to close the Sterling Highway near Mystery Creek Road because of near-zero visibility.

Kyle Casey is an information officer with the Alaska Incident Management team.

“Yeah, you know it was more than just smoke. There was a marine layer that came in on the Kenai this morning and in that area of between mile 60 and 70, approximately in that area of the Sterling. That is the Mystery Creek Road area and the heavy smoke from the overnight burning and smoldering of that, and a new fire glows combined with that marine layer fog made the driving nearly impossible,” he said. “There was a small minor fender bender this morning from traffic coming from Anchorage through that area and that caused the law enforcement, of course for public safety, to temporarily hold traffic on the highway while they waited for the fog and conditions to improve.”

For a time, motorists were detoured around the closure on to Skilak Lake Road until traffic flow was restored on the Sterling Highway around 10 a.m.

“And so here we are June 21, it's the longest day of the year and everybody needs to be prepared.”

 

Nearly 300 personnel are fighting the Swan Lake Fire now. Five interagency hotshot crews totaling a hundred firefighters arrived on scene yesterday (Thurs).

“Hotshot crews from Oregon arrived into Anchorage the day before. They got briefed and inserted yesterday afternoon to help the four Alaska crews that were out there and are still out there,” Casey said. “Those last crews, a couple days ago, burned and secured the southwest corner which was the most important to the community of Sterling. So the community of Sterling now has a firm control line that is being mopped up.”

He said the firefighters are now focusing on the east side of the fire and trying to hold it from reaching Mystery Creek Road.

“For this time of year, especially with high summer and really serious burn conditions to have that control line in Sterling is huge. That was a big effort. And now the hot shots are bolstering that effort and looking to tie containment lines together on the east leg because the fire wants to move through the Mystery Creek Road area,” Casey said. “All dense black spruce, has been light and variable winds that have been pushing the fire towards the Sterling Highway. And currently it's about four miles from the Sterling Highway.”

Firefighters have been visiting homes in the Sterling area, checking that residents are safe and prepared. Casey says we should always be ready for fire during the summer in Alaska.

“Have your home ready, prepare, move your woodpile away from your house, clear the brush, look into Fire Wise principles, understand the Ready Set Go principles. We know in Alaska that these fires become historic. We can all talk about them, like I said earlier, the Card Street, theFunny River, the Sockeye,” he said. “And so here we are June 21, it's the longest day of the year and everybody needs to be prepared.”

Fire managers will be holding a community meeting this evening at 6 p.m. in the Sterling Community Center. Incident command staff will be on had to provide fire information and share strategies and tactics to protect the community and infrastructure.