Alaska Division of Forestry

There’s a mosaic of land managers on the Kenai Peninsula. But all share at least one common goal: mitigate damage from wildfires.

That was front of mind for Jeff Bouschor this last week. He’s the fire management officer for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which recently reached 100 percent containment on the lightning-caused Loon Lake Fire.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

The burn suspension on the Kenai Peninsula has been lifted as of noon today.

The Division of Forestry prohibited burning earlier this week due to dry conditions and hot temperatures. But it said cooler temperatures and forecasted rain have since decreased the wildland fire hazard locally.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Dry conditions and hot temperatures have turned up the wildfire risk on the Kenai Peninsula this week. The Alaska Division of Forestry issued a burn suspension, effective today.

It's Wildland Fire Prevention and Preparedness Week in Alaska. 

This week, staff from the Division of Forestry talk through past and present efforts to mitigate risk and respond to wildfires locally. In the second half of the show, how individuals can avoid fires in their own lives.

The ground on the central Kenai Peninsula is still buried beneath a thick, albeit shrinking, layer of snow. But the Division of Forestry has already started preparing for this year’s wildfire season, which typically falls between late April and August.

Kyle McNally works at the division’s Soldotna office, as a wildland fire resource technician. He said part of preparing means assessing what the division has at the ready.


Casey Lasota/Alaska Division of Forestry

By this time last year, the Kenai Peninsula was starving for rain. This year, we’re getting plenty of it, and that’s keeping wildfires down.

Wildfire danger is low enough that the Alaska Division of Forestry is comfortable sending Alaska’s fire crews out of state to help with fires burning in the Lower 48. Division of Forestry Public Information Officer Tim Mowry said that includes the Kenai Peninsula’s Yukon Crew.

U.S. Forest Service

Most of the Kenai Peninsula, and most of Southcentral Alaska, is covered by what’s called boreal forest. The forests are dominated by birch, cottonwood, alder and spruce, as well as a handful of other species. That's not a huge amount of biodiversity but boreal forests are home to several different kinds of spruce trees.

On the western peninsula, it’s mostly black spruce, which are the spindly, Nightmare Before Christmas-esque conifer trees growing in wetlands. But white spruce also grow in the Kenai-Soldotna area.

Alaska Division of Forestry

The first ghost of the Swan Lake Fire showed up on Tuesday east of Soldotna.

With big wildland fires that burn deep into the terrain, pockets of hot material can remain, even into the next year. These hotspots can then ignite and cause a secondary burn, called a holdover fire.

Spruce bark beetles on the move

Jun 15, 2020
Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

Spring and summer weather gets people out of their houses and working on their property, preparing their homes for wildfire season, clearing trees. But it is not the time to cut live spruce trees.

This is the time of year when spruce bark beetles move from infested trees and fly to new host trees. From mid-May until mid-July when temperatures are above 60° F, the beetles move from the layer between the bark and wood of infested trees, seeking new trees to lay their eggs. Howard Kent is the Fire Management Officer for the Kenai/Kodiak Office of the Division of Forestry.

Alaska Division of Forestry

Firefighters responded to a small grass fire in the Kasilof area yesterday along K-Beach Road. According to the Alaska interaction Coordination Center, a caller reported that a bald eagle struck a power line and caused a spark to fall and ignite the grass in the ditch below.

Alaska Division of Forestry / Alaska Division of Forestry

The Alaska Division of Forestry put out a small wildfire that started on Penny Lane between Soldotna and Sterling on Thursday night.

The fire started in a mobile home on Penny Lane, on the Soldotna side of Longmere Lake around 3:45 p.m. Thursday. Central Emergency Services responded, and the Alaska Division of Forestry got involved when the fire spread from the mobile home to the wildlands nearby. The fire began spreading toward nearby homes and buildings, including a 500-gallon fuel tank.

Zak Overmeyer/Alaska Division of Forestry

With the coronavirus pandemic creating difficulty in getting wildland firefighting personnel and equipment to the state this year, not to mention challenges in training and housing crews with social distancing requirements, the Alaska Division of Forestry wants to prevent human-caused fires as much as possible.

Couple that with the fact that spring conditions in between snowmelt and green-up create high fire danger, Forestry issued a statewide burn ban that went into effect Friday.

Apparently, that message was not very well received, as Forestry responded to 14 wildfires around the state over the weekend. Most were the result of burning activities that are now banned, including burn barrels and debris piles.

Alaska Division of Forestry/Howie Kent

Alaska Division of Forestry firefighters responded to two small fires on the Kenai Peninsula on Thursday. The Robinson Fire, near Sterling, started from an escaped debris burn that ignited nearby grass Thursday afternoon. It was quickly brought under control but is a reminder that fire season is upon us. Even though snow covered the ground not long along, warm days and wind are drying things out quickly, especially before green-up.

In Homer, firefighters put out an escaped debris burn on Grewingk Street off Skyline Drive on Thursday afternoon.

Alaska Division of Forestry

The Kenai Peninsula had its first wildfire of the season Wednesday

Firefighters from the Alaska Division of Forestry and Homer Volunteer Fire Department responded to a small grass fire off East End Road near Homer on Wednesday afternoon.

A person on the scene told firefighters he had discarded a cigarette butt in the grass and put it out with his foot. He left and came back a few minutes later and saw the grass burning, so called the fire department, which in turn called Forestry.

Alaska Division of Forestry

Here are two crises that are bad enough on their own — a worldwide pandemic and wildfires.

The Alaska Division of Forestry is taking proactive steps to try to prevent those two situations from overlapping. 

Forestry announced Tuesday that all burn permits in the state will be suspended May 1. This is applicable to small- and large-scale burning on state, municipal and private lands.

Even with recent snowfall, the Swan Lake fire will likely continue to smolder through the winter. On this week’s Kenai Conversation, we speak with fire managers from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and state Division of Forestry about how the fire was managed, how it’s being monitored during the winter, and what lessons were learned during the main event this summer. 

Cool, rainy weekend helps temper Swan Lake fire

Sep 3, 2019
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.

North Fork Fire takes advantage of wind, drought

Aug 19, 2019
Alaska Div. Forestry

A new wildfire erupted Sunday evening. Firefighters and aircraft responded quickly and were aggressively fighting the new, small fire near the North Fork Road in Anchor Point. The fire flared up around 6:30 p.m. about 1.5 miles east of the Sterling Highway at mile 164.

Two helicopters with water buckets and 20 firefighters from Alaska Division of Forestry, Kachemak Emergency Services and the Anchor Point Fire & Emergency departments are working the fire. The Type 2 Initial Attack Yukon Crew is joining the effort today.

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.

Firefighters thankful for weather break

Jul 11, 2019
Alaska Division of Forestry

Fire managers held another community meeting in Cooper Landing last (Wed.) night. Residents were updated on the Swan Lake Fire's progress since the last meeting on Friday. Cool, moist marine air has dampened the 100,000 acre blaze and reduced its intensity, if not the smoke.
Residents were told how the terrain and weather is resulting in a lot of "low intensity" burning in tundra, bogs and muskeg.

Kenai Conversation: Focus on the Swan Lake Fire

Jul 3, 2019

The Swan Lake Fire has been burning northeast of Sterling for a month now. On this week's Kenai Conversation host Jay Barrett welcomes Andy Alexandrou and Dawn Gelderloos of the Alaska Division of Forestry.

Swan Lake fire 20 percent contained

Jun 28, 2019
Chris Moore/Alaska Division of Forestry

 

Firefighters were able to complete some key objectives on the Swan Lake fire burning on the Kenai Peninsula Thursday. 

Swan Lake fire work continues along Sterling highway

Jun 27, 2019
Mike Hill/Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

 

When the Incident Command team running operations on the Swan Lake fire met with community members last week, it was the number two priority fire in the state. Since then, total personnel working just outside Sterling has almost doubled.

Alaska Division of Forestry

 

Firefighting efforts were focused on keeping the Swan Lake Fire away from a major Homer Electric Association transmission line Tuesday.

Casey Lasota/Alaska Division of Forestry

 

Now clocking in at more than 32,000 acres, the Swan Lake fire continues to burn about five miles east of Sterling in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Almost 400 personnel are currently assigned to the fire, the fourth major event on this part of the Peninsula in the past six years. That frequency has given Refuge managers almost real time feedback on what their policies and practices mean on the landscape.

 


Alaska Division of Forestry

  The Swan Lake Fire near Sterling had minimal growth over the weekend, as cooler, wetter weather prevailed. The latest report from the state Division of Forestry says the size of the fire is estimated at 12,782 acres, an increase of only about 200 acres from Friday.

Alaska Division of Forestry

  A pair of 20-member firefighting crews have joined the effort to keep the Swan Lake fire, burning near Sterling, contained. The crew compliment now numbers 67 and more are on the way.

40 firefighters brought in to secure Swan Lake Fire

Jun 13, 2019
Alaska Division of Forestry

  The Swan Lake Fire northeast of Sterling continues to burn at a moderate pace, according to fire managers. It doubled in size again overnight, to almost 7,000 acres, or 11 square miles. 

The Division of Forestry has been keeping an eye on the wildfire, but allowed it to burn unimpeded as it headed further away from the community and highway. This latest expansion, though, has forced Forestry’s hand, and they are bringing in two 20-person firefighting crews today (Thursday) to begin work on securing the southwest corner of the fire.

Alaska Division of Forestry

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.”

Peninsula fires largely in monitor status

Jun 11, 2019
Patrick Quiner/Alaska Division of Forestry

 

Fire crews were able to get a good handle on multiple fires burning around the Kenai Peninsula over the weekend. By late Friday, the 176 acre Tustumena Lake fire was called fully contained.

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