Swan Lake fire

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

Researchers and the Cooperative Extension Service want to know how the pandemic and the 2019 Swan Lake Fire impacted food resilience on the Kenai Peninsula.

Courtney Long is a PhD student at Iowa State University. She said the study on the peninsula is one of five she’s conducting in rural communities across the country. 

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

It was morel mushroom mania on the Kenai Peninsula last summer. The 2019 Swan Lake Fire left behind perfect conditions for the brown-capped mushrooms to grow, including in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which saw a large portion of the burn.

The second year after a burn is never as good as the first, morel-wise. But there’s still hope for mushroom hunters this summer.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Researchers from the University of Alaska Anchorage and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health are collaborating on a pilot study to better understand the psychological impacts of Alaska wildfires on residents.

They’re looking for adults who lived on the Kenai Peninsula or in Anchorage last summer, during the Swan Lake Fire, to participate in interviews and workshops about how that fire affected their mental health. The study is entitled, “Understanding and Supporting Mental Health and Well-Being in the Context of Intensifying Wildfires in Alaska.”

Patrick Quiner/Alaska Division of Forestry

Two more trails that were damaged by the Swan Lake Fire last year have reopened.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge announce Friday that the lower Kenai River Trail and the Seven Lakes trails are now open to the public again after crews finished mitigating the damage. Both trails were in the heart of the burn zone for the massive Swan Lake Fire last year, and have been closed all summer so far.

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.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Several popular trails closed after being damaged by the Swan Lake Fire last year are reopening to the public.

The Skyline Trail, which takes hikers up a steep mile to the tops of the Mystery Hills, and Hideout Trail, which takes off from near the eastern entrance of Skilak Lake Road, are now open again. Fuller Lakes Trail has been open this year up to the lower lake, but closed up to the upper lake. That upper part is now open as well. All three trails are popular but were closed due to extensive damage during the fires in 2019.

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.

Morel season just about to heat up in Swan Lake burn

May 14, 2020
Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Last year, the Swan Lake Fire took away a lot of opportunity for outdoor activities across the western Kenai Peninsula. But, like many wildfires, it leaves behind a gift: morel mushrooms.

“After wildland fire, you end up with the conditions that are kind of ripe for welcoming morel mushrooms. We’ve had really large fires on the Kenai Peninsula in the past that have been very productive with morels,” said Leah Eskelin, park ranger for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Morels, which grow across northern climates and have conical, brown caps, are highly sought after by mushroom hunters. Why? They can’t be bought commercially, and they’re delicious. They’re also notoriously hard to find.

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Hikers: Just because daylight is increasing and snow is receding, that does not mean every trail is ready for foot traffic. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is asking people to stay off trails during breakup that sustained damage in last year’s Swan Lake Fire.

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. 

Take a look back at the Nov. 30, 2018, earthquake that shook Southcentral Alaska with Dan Nelson and Bud Sexton with the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management. Find out what went well in that situation, what lessons were learned and how OEM is hoping to get the entire community involved in preparing for the next natural disaster.

ECON 919 - Fishing fallout from the Swan Lake fire

Nov 15, 2019


This week, continuing to unpack the full costs of the Swan Lake Fire. Senator Peter Micciche got a meeting together this week with officials from an alphabet soup of local, state and federal agencies. They talked about how the plan to fight, or not fight the fire, unfolded and how those plans changed as conditions on the ground changed, or, didn’t change. It took months for fire dousing rains to return to the Kenai this fall. And until they did, a number of businesses that rely on access to the Kenai river, either directly or indirectly, suffered.



ECON 919 - Fire costs, brush piles still growing

Oct 25, 2019


This week, continuing to count the costs of the Swan Lake fire.



Firewood gathering opening Tuesday on Refuge

Oct 14, 2019

        After a summer of fire closures, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is opening up personal use firewood collection starting on Tuesday.

Woodcutting will be permitting along Swan Lake, Swanson River and Funny River roads, within the Dolly Varden Campground, and the unburned areas within the Upper and Lower Skilak campgrounds.

All harvesting is limited to dead and downed trees within the designated areas, and no standing trees, dead or alive may be felled. No off-roading or ATVs are allowed.

      The U.S. Small Business Administration is offering low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses economically harmed by the Swan Lake Fire.

SBA acting Administrator Christopher M. Pilkerton announced the action taken under the agency's own authority to declare a disaster following a request received from Gov. Dunleavy on Oct. 2.

More land, cabins open in Chugach NF

Oct 10, 2019

        More wilderness area is being reopened to the public in the aftermath of the Swan Lake Fire.

The Chugach National Forest is rescinding the previously closed areas of the Chugach National Forest impacted by the Fire. This reopens the south portion of the Resurrection Pass Trail, West Swan Lake, Swan Lake, Juneau Lake, Romig, and Trout Lake cabins, and surrounding areas. All areas, cabins, and trails are now open on the Seward Ranger District.

Refuge reopens more land after fire

Oct 3, 2019

With the reduced fire danger and winding down of fire operations, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge has re-opened several more recreational facilities previously closed due to the Swan Lake Fire. The Vista Trail, Doroshin Bay Cabin, Hidden Lake and Hidden Lake Campground are open, as is the East Fork Moose River.
    The designated closure area originally established around the fire is also being reduced to the perimeter of the Swan Lake Fire as it was on Sept. 30.

Econ 919: Electricity rate-payers may get burned

Sep 27, 2019

    The monetary cost of the Swan Lake Fire, still smoldering between Sterling and Cooper Landing, has yet to be tallied up completely, but in addition to lost tourism and retail dollars due to the blaze, add increased electric rates — for some.
    Utility officials say the fire damaged the high-voltage power transmission lines that connect the Bradley Lake hydroelectric dam near Homer to the rest of the railbelt.

        Rain over the weekend has helped the crews on the Swan Lake Fire continue to mop up work on the perimeter of the blaze.

In the most recent report from Rick Connell, the incident commander for the Type 2 Northern Rockies Team 4, says fire suppression repair work is being done on all but the north side of the burned area. That includes brush chipping and cutting fire weakened trees along roadways. In areas where the fire reached roads firefighters will continue to monitor for fire weakened trees falling and cut them as needed. 

The change of seasons and what might be the first big storm of the fall has incident commanders working the Swan Lake Fire optimistic that it will not flare up again as it did once before.
    As a result, all evacuation alerts around Cooper Landing were removed this (Tuesday) morning, and all but one channel of the Upper Kenai River has been reopened to public use.
    Emergency planners do caution Cooper Landing residents to remain aware and prepared however, until a season-ending rain storm comes.

Crews prepping hot fuels for expected rain

Sep 16, 2019

There are 305 personnel fighting the Swan Lake Fire burning between Sterling and Cooper Landing. The blaze has not changed in size appreciably in a couple of weeks, standing at 163,714 acres. Containment is 48 percent.

Northern Rockies Incident Management Team 4 Commander Rick Connell said work is still being done to reduce hot spots on the Resurrection and Fuller Lakes trails and cleaning up in and around Cooper Landing.

Sunshine increases Swan Lake Fire activity

Sep 6, 2019
Alaska Division of Forestry

         Yesterday’s sunshine and warm weather sparked some fire activity on the Swan Lake Fire but the majority was well inside the fire perimeter. Some fire activity was noted near the north shore of Skilak Lake on the southern end of the fire, southeast of the Upper Skilak Lake Campground.

Crews continue to “mop up” around recreation sites within the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area and along the loop road into the area.

Kenai Conversation: Swan Lake Fire update

Sep 4, 2019

The Swan Lake Fire has burned on the Central Kenai Peninsula for four months, occasionally closing the Sterling Highway and the Upper Kenai River. On this week's Kenai Conversation, host Jay Barrett talks with Great Basin Type 1 Public Information Officer Brian Scott and Alaska Division of Forestry PIO Andy Alexandrou about the resurgence of the fire, how it's being fought, and what citizens can do to minimize future danger.

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.

Burn ban ammended for firefighter comfort

Sep 3, 2019

        An emergency order banning all open burning may have left some firefighters staying in camps in more remote parts of the Swan Lake Fire to eat cold rations and wear an extra sweater in the sleeping bag.

The burn ban, affecting the entirety of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, was strict enough that even cooking and warming campfires in crew camps were banned.

Swan Lake Fire update, Friday, August 30th

Aug 30, 2019
Great Basin Incident Management Team


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.

While fire and smoke across the Sterling Highway near Cooper Landing has occasionally forced road closures to motor vehicle traffic, when the Swan Lake Fire reached the Upper Kenai River, it was closed to boat traffic, and has yet to reopen.
Guides who work the Upper Kenai are usually very busy this time of year, according to Dennis Randa because it’s when the trout are feasting on sockeye salmon eggs.

The contingent battling the Swan Lake Fire is now at its highest level — even more than in July when over 500 firefighters were assigned to the blaze. Today, there are 671, with a half-dozen helicopters. Before flaring up a week and a half ago, about 20 firefighters remained.

Residents of Cooper Landing remain in the Level-2-Ready alert level for evacuation for a third day.

Swan Lake fire continues push east toward Cooper Landing

Aug 27, 2019
Alaska Division of Forestry


School was cancelled in Cooper Landing Tuesday, as the Swan Lake fire pushed farther to the east, and crossed the Resurrection Trail north of the Sterling Highway Monday night. Crews spent Monday doing back burn operations intended to keep the active fire off the highway, which had been the case Sunday night.