As the Swan Lake Fire east of Sterling continues to grow, the Alaska Division of Forestry is stepping up management efforts. Not to the level of fighting the fire yet, but getting ready in case suppression efforts become necessary.
“Most of that new growth was on the northeast and northwest, away from the Sterling Highway,” said Sarah Saarloos, public information officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry. “And it’s still sitting at about 5.5, 6 miles as the crow flies away from the Sterling community. There is at this time no threat to the sterling community.”
The fire grew to over 3,600 acres as of Tuesday night — or about 5.7 square miles. It was sparked by lightning June 6 and is burning in mostly black spruce in a limited-suppression area of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Refuge and Forestry officials are keeping an eye on the fire and a Type-3 management team took over Monday. Management levels range from Type 5 to Type 1. A Type 5 wildfire is analogous to an escaped campfire that would only take one or two people to put out, whereas a Type 1 is the most complex wildfire and requires all resources available, like last year’s Camp Fire in California that destroyed the town of Paradise and caused at least 85 fatalists.
Type 3 management means Forestry is planning on how they will fight the fire if that becomes necessary.
“If it does start moving towards the highway what, operationally, do we need to bring in to be able to reduce the impacts of the highway?” Saarloos said. “We don’t really have that many values of risk north of the fire and not so much to the direct east, but to the west we’ve got Sterling, and then to the south we’ve got the highway, so those are the two areas that we are looking at, that far-out look and building contingency planning.”
Smoke has been impacting visibility on the Sterling Highway, from around miles 65 to 70.
“If you start seeing more smoke, just slow down and get your headlights on, and, just like you would in a construction zone area, you would want to just really kind of heighten your awareness as you’re driving,” Saarloos said.
Forestry is coordinating with the Alaska Department of Transportation, so updates on smoky conditions or other impacts to traffic can be found at 511.alaska.gov.
The forecast calls for cloudier weather through the rest of the week and the weekend, with a chance of scattered showers Saturday and Sunday.
Due to fire activity, refuge managers have closed access to Mystery Creek Road, the East Fork of the Moose River north of Watson Lake and the Enstar pipeline right-of-way from the refuge boundary east of Sterling to the Chickaloon River. The closures will remain in effect through July 11.