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Overnight wildfire flare-up puts Peninsula residents on edge

Devin Kelly,Zaz Hollander
Central Emergency Services firefighters walk the fire line along the edge of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Browns Lake on Sunday morning, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
A fire flares up south of Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
A sign warns campers of burn bans in effect at a campsite along Skilak Lake Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Wildfire officials held a community meeting at Tustumena Elementary School near Kasilof that was attended by over two hundred people on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Sterling resident Brian McCorison drove up Funny River Road on Tuesday, May 27, 2014 to check out the area where the Funny River fire was thought to have started. The evacuation order has been lifted and residents along the road have been allowed to return.
Loren Holmes
The Hooper Bay Type 2 wildland firefighters prepare to hike into the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Fire reaches the south side of the Kenai River, just across from the Kenai Keys Subdivision, at 1:50 p.m. Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Brian Looney
Central Emergency Services firefighter Sarah Smith informs residents Mike Foust and Danna Moisii of the current Funny River fire conditions from a lookout point at the end of Alaska View Lane in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014. In the distance, a hot spot flares up from the still very active fire.
Loren Holmes
From left, Levi Hohl, Steve Schumacher, John Hohl and Dan Desmarais watch fire activity from DesmaraisÕ deck on Browns Lake on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Photo courtesy of Fred and Cecilia Colvin A resident took a picture of the wall of flame erupting about 10:35 p.m. Friday night (May 23, 2014) off Heavy Down Drive near mile 105 on the east side of the Sterling Highway before people there were evacuated.
Fred and Cecilia Colvin
Clouds of smoke rise above small airplanes parked at the Soldotna Airport near Funny River Road on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Sterling resident Brian McCorison drove up Funny River Road on Tuesday, May 27, 2014 to check out the area where the Funny River fire was thought to have started. The evacuation order has been lifted and residents along the road have been allowed to return.
Loren Holmes
The Hooper Bay Type 2 wildland firefighters prepare to hike into the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Boats and equipment are ferried away from a cabin and away from the approaching fire on the south side of the Kenai River at 1:54 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014, near Kenai Keys.
Brian Looney
The Funny River fire burns near the northern edge of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Browns Lake on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
An ember burns in the northern portion of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday, May 24, 2014. The area, along a fire line south of Browns Lake, had burned three hours before.
Loren Holmes
Mary Joe McElroy, Katie Blossom, and Marina Bosick get an update on the Funny River wildfire by cell phone at their Bear Creek cabin in the remote subdivision on the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
Smokey warns motorist driving south on the Sterling Highway near Soldotna that the fire danger was "Extreme" on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Officials lifted the evacuation order for the Funny River neighborhood on Tuesday, May 27, 2014, and residents began returning shortly after 9:00am.
Loren Holmes
The Hooper Bay Type 2 wildland firefighter crew hikes into the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
A last load out from a cabin on the south side of the Kenai River is unloaded on the gravel beach at Kenai Keys at 1:58 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Brian Looney
The Funny River fire burns near the northern edge of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Browns Lake on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Firefighters douse hot spots along a fire line near Browns Lake on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Streaks of wildfire debris float on the surface of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
A bulldozer clears a line off Funny River Road on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Firefighters mop up hot spots along Funny River Road on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. The evacuation order has been lifted and residents along the road have been allowed to return to their homes.
Loren Holmes
Firefighter Matt Tegerdine of Central Emergency Services monitors a hot spot to prevent the wildfire from crossing Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Smoke obscures sight of a cabin on the south side of the Kenai River at 1:59 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014, across from Kenai Keys.
Brian Looney
Central Emergency Services firefighters monitor hot spots that had crossed the fire line near Alaska View Lane in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014. The area was evacuated later that day.
Loren Holmes
Sam Werner, left, and Levi Hohl put out hot spots along a fire line near HohlÕs brotherÕs home near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday, May 24, 2014. The Funny River fire had burned up to the line three hours before.
Loren Holmes
Jeff Stark of the Alaska Smokejumpers lays fire hose at a cabin in the on the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
The Chena Hot Shots, a Type 1 wildland firefighting crew from Fairbanks, hikes along Funny River Road while battling the wildfire on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Firefighters mop up hot spots along Funny River Road on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. The evacuation order has been lifted and residents along the road have been allowed to return to their homes.
Loren Holmes
Trees burn to the edge of the water on the south side of the Kenai River at 2:01 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014, across from Kenai Keys.
Brian Looney
An Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter dumps water on the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
A bulldozer clears a fire line on Saturday, May 24, 2014, protecting the Funny River neighborhood from a wildfire that has topped 100 thousand acres in size.
Loren Holmes
Jeff Stark of the Alaska Smokejumpers lays fire hose at a cabin on the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
An air tanker drops water on the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Firefighters mop up hot spots along Funny River Road on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. The evacuation order has been lifted and residents along the road have been allowed to return to their homes.
Loren Holmes
A river boat stands offshore in front of the fire line on the south side of the Kenai River at 2:03 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014, across from Kenai Keys.
Brian Looney
Members of the Houston, Alaska fire department stage their personnel and equipment in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014. The area was later evacuated.
Loren Holmes
A pyrocumulonimbus cloud forms above the northern flank of the Funny River fire on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Jeff Stark of the Alaska Smokejumpers lays fire hose at a cabin on the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
Firefighter Spencer McLean of Central Emergency Services places a water and foam mixture on the on the brush and trees along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News Boaters, bikers, four-wheeler enthusiasts and others flocked to Eklutna Lake in Chugach State Park on Memorial Day, May 26, 2014, despite heavy smoke from the wildfires burning in Southcentral Alaska.
Anne Raup
Local resident Sue Looney watches for embers jumping the river on the Kenai Keys side of the Kenai River at 2:13 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Brian Looney
From left, Arianna Moonin, 11, Tristan Moonin, 8, Kammy Highlands-Vatshelle, 9, Elias Moonin, 12, and Tatiana Moonin, 9 play on a trampoline in the Funny River neighborhood while a forest fire burns behind them on Sunday, May 25, 2014. Their neighborhood was evacuated an hour later.
Loren Holmes
Dan Desmarais, left, helps his neighbor John Hohl water his home and yard in advance of the nearby Funny River fire on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014. HohlÕs home is near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna.
Loren Holmes
Land owners check on their Bear Creek cabin on the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
A firefighter from Central Emergency Service monitors the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Wildfire smoke obscures the Chugach Mountains as Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks at the Anchorage Veterans Memorial Rededication Ceremony held Monday morning, May 26, 2014, on the Delaney Park Strip.
Erik Hill
Fire crews arrive and help search through dense smoke to find embers in the Kenai Keys Subdivision at 2:42 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Brian Looney
A helicopter drops water on a hot spot near the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
An airplane prepares to drop retardant on a fire burning on the edge of Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Wildland firefighters and supplies are positioned at the Bear Creek subdivision on the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
Firefighters hydrate while monitoring the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Helicopters dump water on flames on the south side of the Kenai River to hold the line at 3:08 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014, across from Kenai Keys.
Brian Looney
An Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter gathers water from Aurora Lake to dump on the Funny River fire, burning nearby on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
A fire burns on the edge of Lake Road in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Streams of smoke billow from the Funny River wildfire along the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
A firefighter works the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Gov
Helicopters scoop water from the Kenai River to hold the line on the south side of the river at 3:09 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Brian Looney
Planes dump water on the south side of the Kenai River at 3:34 p.m. Saturday, May 24, 2014, across from Kenai Keys.
Brian Looney
Driver Mike Morris monitors a ridge beyond a group of firefighters working on a fire line near Aurora Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014. Morris is looking for any sign of the fire encroaching on the firefighters.
Loren Holmes
Chris Lucas watches a fire burn near his home off of Lake Road in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
A helicopter shuttles firefighters to the remote Bear Creek subdivision on north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
A goat named Snickers that lives at Mile 9 of Funny River Road was relocated to Soldotna during the wildfire on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Central Emergency Services firefighter Sarah Smith informs Funny River residents Pete Chaussee, left, Angela Rhodes, and Dan Smith of the current Funny River fire conditions from a lookout point at the end of Alaska View Lane in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
An Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter prepares to gather water from Aurora Lake to dump on the Funny River fire, burning nearby on Sunday, May 25, 2014. Behind the helicopter is a pyrocumulonimbus cloud, created by fire activity on the north east edge of the fire.
Loren Holmes
John Hohl, left, rushes to clear spruce from his home near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014. With him is his brother Levi Hohl, in red, and friend Sam Werner.
Loren Holmes
Photo by Karol Raszkiewicz Smoke from the Funny River Horse Trail fire rises above the peninsula Thursday evening, May 22, 2014. Raszkiewicz was on a flight from Dillingham to Anchorage when she made the aerial image of the smoke.
Karol Raszkiewicz
Sierra Chapman, 11, feeds leaves from a tree to some of the 10 goats and 4 Alpaca's that live at Mile 9 of Funny River Road that were relocated to Soldotna on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
John Hohl walks the fire line near his home on Sunday morning, May 25, 2014. He and his brother were putting out hot spots.
Loren Holmes
Children play on a trampoline north of Browns Lake Road on Rabbit Run on Sunday afternoon, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
A firefighter warns Sam Werner, left, and Levi Hohl of a fire that jumped a fire line a half mile from where they were working to try to secure Levi HohlÕs brotherÕs property near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014. They were evacuated shortly afterwards.
Loren Holmes
Heavy smoke from the Funny River wildfire is visible in the distance from Erik Hansen Scout Park in Kenai on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
A helicopter dropped water on the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Sam Werner walks a fire line near Browns Lake, looking for hot spots, on Saturday, May 24, 2014. The Funny River fire had burned up to the line three hours before.
Loren Holmes
An airplane drops retardant on a fire line near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
John Hohl, right, is exhausted and frustrated after being evacuated from his home near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014. From a neighborÕs home, he watched the fire burn less than a half mile from his home.
Loren Holmes
Incident commander Rob Allen of the Alaska Incident Management Team addresses questions during a community meeting at Tustumena Elementary School near Kasilof that was attended by over two hundred people on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
A helicopter that dropped water on the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014, gets another bucket of water.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
A hot spot flares up along the edge of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Browns Lake on Sunday morning, May 25, 2014. The Funny River fire was temporarily stopped here overnight, but changing conditions prompted officials to issue an evacuation order for neighborhoods directly across the line.
Loren Holmes
Dan Desmarais, left, and Steve Schumacher watch the Funny River fire from DesmaraisÕ deck on Browns Lake on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Sam Werner rests in Dan DesmaraisÕ yard after working furiously to clear trees from his friend John HohlÕs nearby property near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014. Werner and others were told to evacuate as the fire jumped a fire line less than a half mile from HohlÕs home.
Loren Holmes
Rem West hits a tee shot on the 7th hole at the Bird Homestead Golf Course off Funny River Road on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014, with a column of smoke from the wildfire visible in the distance.
Bill Roth
A helicopter dropped water on the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Central Emergency Services firefighters put out hot spots along the edge of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Browns Lake on Sunday morning, May 25, 2014. The Funny River fire was temporarily stopped here overnight, but changing conditions prompted officials to issue an evacuation order for neighborhoods directly across the line.
Loren Holmes
Helicopters drop water on the Funny River fire near Browns Lake on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Skilak lake is shrouded in smoke from the Funny River fire on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Wildfire officials held a community meeting at Tustumena Elementary School near Kasilof that was attended by over two hundred people on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
The Hooper Bay crew, Type 2 wildland firefighters, hike towards the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor

Update 10:50 a.m. Saturday:

The Funny River wildfire neared 100,000 acres in size Saturday morning as firefighters rushed to build containment lines on the western side of the blaze. 

As of 10 a.m., the fire was burning on 96,584 acres, with 20 percent containment, officials said. Maps posted online show the fire had pushed largely to the east but also made advances toward Kasilof.   

Air tankers and ground crews were continuing work on containment lines Saturday morning on milepost 103 to 105 of the Sterling Highway, where an evacuation order was issued for about 50 homes late Friday night. The order was lifted around 1 a.m. after fire activity subsided, officials said. 

People can expect more fire activity later in the day as winds pick up and humidity decreases, said Brad Nelson, health and safety officer for Central Emergency Services.  

Incident management officials were scrambling Saturday morning to get GIS mapping systems back online after the Homer Electric Association de-energized a transmission line at 3:01 a.m. for about 10 minutes, causing a widespread outage. 

Update 8:15 a.m. Saturday:

Borough officials lifted their evacuation order at 1:18 a.m., citing decreased fire activity. But even as residents were told they could return to their homes, they were warned to be ready to leave again at short notice.

After spending the night at a friend's home, evacuees Fred and Cecilia Colvin were headed back to their house at Heavy Down Drive near mile 105 of the Sterling Highway about 8 a.m.

“We’re going home -- very scary evening,” Cecilia Colvin said in a text message to a reporter.

Officials said that by about 1:45 a.m., after the fire made its run in the vicinity of miles 103 to 105 of the Sterling Highway, the Funny River fire had grown to 78,215 acres. It was about 20 percent contained, with 409 people assigned to control it. A new map of the fire's extent was due to be published after 9 a.m.

Anchorage residents awoke to a foreboding orange sun and a strangely dark sky as the breeze brought the Kenai smoke north.

Update 12:50 a.m. Saturday:

Officials ordered an evacuation of about 50 homes east of the Sterling Highway north of Kasilof after a 200-foot wall of flames erupted on the western line of the Funny River fire late Friday night.

The flare-up occurred after the wind shifted, said Brad Nelson, health and safety officer for the Kenai Peninsula Borough's Central Emergency Services.

“It just started ripping," Nelson said.

Early Saturday morning, fire managers were developing a plan for attacking the newly aggressive fire, Nelson said, though it lost some of its ferocity when it burned into wetlands.

The evacuation was called for people living between Mile 103 and 105 on the east side of the Sterling Highway. That's about two miles north of the Pollard Subdivision, where residents were earlier advised to prepare themselves for evacuation. Those residents are so far not under evacuation order, though the situation there was being evaluated early Saturday morning, officials said.

Nelson said fire officials received numerous calls from residents when the fire made its sudden advance. When he arrived on scene, the fire was roaring through trees with a wall of flames extending 200 feet into the air.

Officials closed the Sterling Highway in the two-mile evacuation zone about 10 miles south of Soldotna.

Original Story:

The western edge of the massive Kenai Peninsula wildfire crept close enough to a large Kasilof subdivision Friday afternoon that authorities issued an "evacuation readiness advisory" warning residents to be ready to leave should the real order come.

Officials called the advisory precautionary, saying it means only that the Funny River Horse Trail Fire is close enough to the Pollard subdivision that residents could get an evacuation notice within 12 to 24 hours.

"The fire is crawling this way, and it is crawling," said Central Emergency Services health and safety officer Brad Nelson.

By Friday evening, the fire had crept closer to the Bear Creek subdivision, in the Funny River Road area and toward Kasilof, Nelson said. But a mix of cooler temperatures, slightly higher humidity and southwestern winds slowed the fire's advance, he added.

Firefighters from Central Emergency Services spent part of the day helping forestry crews with operations near Funny River Road. Then, when the evacuation readiness order was issued, those crews swung their focus to help with structural protection for Pollard Loop residents, clearing flammable materials and evaluating homes.

The Pollard subdivision is made up of roughly 100 lots with a mix of established ranch-style houses and newer expensive homes. Along the dusty, unpaved road leading into the subdivision, trucks pulling trailers on the way out passed the trucks of fire crews going the other way. The people who live in the Kasilof and Funny River communities have spent the week in limbo, organizing valuables and figuring out what to take.

The Funny River fire, now more than 67,000 acres, is burning in the 1.9-million-acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Fire crews have converged on the Kenai Peninsula from around the state and the country, with some 375 people there Friday and 400 to 500 expected this weekend, authorities say.

North winds on Thursday gave way to calmer air Friday morning but fire bosses were expecting winds to shift and blow from the southwest at 10 to 15 mph, which could push the fire toward Funny River Road, where crews have established good fuel breaks, Nelson said.

On the north end of the fire, municipal fire crews from around the state -- Fairbanks, Delta, Chugiak, Mat-Su -- worked through the night to protect Funny River Road, according to the Alaska Incident Management Team. The fire is now 15 percent contained on the fire's northeast side.

Crews and bulldozers on Friday morning worked to secure fire lines by clearing fuels like grass and trees from the tail of the fire near Funny River to Cole Creek Lake, officials say. Helicopters dropped water to help crews defend the Funny River community.

On Friday afternoon, ground wildland fire crews went to the northwest corner of the Pollard subdivision to hike to the fire, Nelson said. Water-scooping planes dipping into Tustumena and Skilak lakes are working that side of the fire. Aircraft dropping water now have permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to use chemical retardant on the flames, and bulldozers are allowed to build a fire line in the refuge, which is unusual.

The southern end of the fire made a late run to the southeast Thursday and was less than 2 miles from 10 homes at the Bear Creek subdivision on Tustumena Lake as of Friday, according to an update from fire managers. Smoke jumpers and a fire crew from Oregon deployed there for structure protection.

The NASA Earth Observatory on Friday released a stunning image of the fire as seen from space: a dense, dark gray wedge of smoke punctuated by towering white pyrocumulonimbus clouds of hellish "thunderheads formed when superheated air rises above an intense fire" where hail, lightning and strong winds often occur.

Down on the ground in the Pollard subdivision, Ruth Missik had been packing up her stuff since earlier in the week. Two ionizers were running in her home to control the smoke. She said she had never planned to stick around until someone told her to leave and was thinking she'd be gone by Friday night. Her advice for neighbors: "Don't panic, and pray for rain."

Bob Bush, 70, also loaded up valuables and papers in case the call comes to leave even as he tried to maintain his normal life.

"That's the state most of us are in here," said Bush, looking across his front yard. He had offered his family's hayfield across the road as a staging area for crews.

After a community information meeting Thursday night, Debbie Matarrese said she felt reassured enough about the fire that she started unpacking boxes. Then came the phone call early Friday afternoon telling her to prepare for an evacuation in the next 12 to 24 hours.

"That made it real," said Matarrese, 63.

She was standing on her front lawn, boxes stacked next to her car and on the front porch of her house.

Her next-door neighbors, Larry and Sue Moore, had pulled their boat out of storage and rigged it up to their truck. They said they wouldn't have bothered, but they were planning to put belongings inside if an evacuation was ordered.

They'd also offered to use the boat to help move Matarrese's belongings.

Down the road, two trailers and a flatbed truck were parked outside the Henderson household, overlooking Pollard Lake. When the evacuation warning went out, four families, friends from church, came to their aid.

Children carried out boxes filled with stuffed animals, toys and keepsakes. One woman carried a chair and two musical instrument cases.

Meanwhile, businesses that usually rely on visitors during Memorial Day weekend were fretting about what might happen this year. Near the Kasilof River, the Kasilof Riverview store normally sells gas, liquor and supplies incoming campers and fishermen. Co-owner Joe Browning said Friday morning he was waiting to see if people would show up.

"If there's smoke in the campgrounds, people won't stay," Browning said.

Residents near the other large fire burning in Alaska -- the Tyonek fire on the northwest shores of Cook Inlet -- have been warned to be ready to evacuate for several days, but fire officials late Friday said progress was going well. Five more wildland fire crews arrived Friday as the blaze covered more than 1,900 acres. A new management team was expected to take command of the fire Saturday morning.

The fire grew only slightly Friday, according to an update from the Alaska Division of Forestry.

Fire officials have notified Beluga residents that if fire reaches Shorty Creek, they'll need to be on alert in case evacuation becomes necessary.

The fire was about a half-mile from there Friday evening but not advancing, Palmer-based state fire management officer Norm McDonald said.

"It's been holding up really good today," McDonald said. "We got the extra people in there. The winds have been cooperating so far."

A red-flag fire warning continued into the evening for the Susitna Valley and the Kenai Peninsula, but the National Weather Service lifted the warning for other areas of the state.

A number of Tyonek residents, especially elders bothered by the heavy smoke, have already left the village of about 150 people that's bustling with fire crews and equipment. McDonald said crews tried to make room for a funeral in the village on Friday.

Crews counted 217 structures between Viapan Lake and Beluga, according to the update. That accounts for everything from fish camps to sheds to full-time homes.

Beluga, a community of about 50 people in winter, swells to nearly 150 in summer with people flying out to cabins and oil and gas workers such as those at the nearby Beluga River Gas Field.

Along with the residents, the local energy infrastructure has added urgency to firefighting efforts. The Chugach Electric Association power plant sits four miles north of Beluga. An oil-tank farm is within about six miles of Tyonek.

Fire weather forecasters are predicting no significant rain until Tuesday, and even that's a maybe, McDonald said.

A third significant fire burning near the Dalton Highway bridge across the Yukon River and the trans-Alaska pipeline grew to 500 acres by Friday but was moving away from structures and the pipeline, authorities said. Smoke jumpers and other crews secured a Bureau of Land Management visitor center and campground as well as the Yukon River Camp food, fuel and lodging stop. The fire was 10 percent contained, according to a Friday morning update.

Things were looking pretty good for that fire, said Pete Buist, a public information officer with the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center in Fairbanks.

"They've got a lot of work to do there, they got another crew coming in, but they actually got some (rain) overnight," Buist said, adding that higher humidities were also helping crews with direct attack Friday.

Information about current smoke conditions is available from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation at dec.alaska.gov/air/am/smoke.htm.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Services has set up a call line to help homeowners with fire preparedness. Residents can call 907-714-2495. Information is available at www.borough.kenai.ak.us/emergency-mgmt/fire.

Reporting from Wasilla: Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com or 907-352-6705. Reporting from Soldotna: Devin Kelly at dkelly@adn.com or 907-257-4314.

 


By DEVIN KELLY and ZAZ HOLLANDER
Anchorage Daily News