The Swan Lake fire is closing in on the three month mark, and now more than 700 personnel are on the scene, working to fully extinguish it.
Milder weather has calmed fire activity the last couple days on both sides of the fire. Great Basin management team operations chief Rocky Gilbert says hand crews are still working the Sterling side of the fire, dousing hot spots and doing the other detailed mop up work.
“We have crews in this direct piece of fire line that’s between the (Sterling) highway and Skilak Lake road, continuing to cut hot material, separating the hot and the cold, creating a large fuel break with hoses in there continuing to spray into that really deep duff trying to put out fire, keep fire from being able to sit in there and smolder, especially along the lines closest to those communities.”
In the Skilak recreation area, firefighters are making checks on cabins and campgrounds, and putting up sprinklers where they can. Moving east, portions of the fire are simply being monitored, as the elevation and distance from the highway makes sending firefighting crews in more difficult and dangerous. The Fuller Lakes and Resurrection Pass trails, especially around Trout Lake are serving as important fire lines, as crews work to keep the fire from moving downhill and into Cooper Landing.
“They’ve got sawyers in there cutting stuff up, pumps in place, multiple hoses and they’re feeling pretty good about the work they’ve got in there, but again, with some winds we’re concerned about trees blowing over and some of the hazards they’re going to be exposed to over the next few days.”
Along with those southeasterly winds, some light rain is also a possibility, though not enough to fully stop the spread of the fire. Air support is available, but smokey conditions and shifting winds are making it difficult to get much use of planes and helicopters right now, Gilbert says.
“A couple of the problems we’re running into is our heli-base is back in Sterling and sometimes when that’s got good air so our aircraft can take off to go support this, these guys (at the fire) are smoked in and other times when the wind is blowing out of the east, the airport is smoked in, but we have clear air (near the fire). So, it’s trying to figure out how to get aircraft in and out.”
Temporary flight restrictions remain in place and large portions of federal land within the fire zone are closed, including most trails, cabins and campgrounds in both the refuge and the Chugach National Forest. Hunting in those areas is closed. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has not issued any emergency orders for hunting on state land, but advises hunters to be aware of ongoing fire operations. Another community meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight Sterling.