Update, 2 p.m.:
An evacuation advisory alert has been issued for people who live in the Funny River community and in Kasilof east of the Sterling Highway. Officials said the advisory is due to a red flag wind warning for Saturday afternoon and night.
The advisory is not an evacuation order, but residents of those areas are asked to be ready to evacuate should the real order come. The Funny River community alert extends from the Soldotna Airport at mile 2 to the end of the fire side of Funny River Road, said Brad Nelson, health and safety officer for Central Emergency Services.
The Kasilof advisory starts at the intersection of the Sterling Highway and Kalifornsky Beach and extends up to mile 109.5 on the east side of the highway, Nelson said.
The first such advisory went out Friday to residents of the Pollard Loop subdivision from mile 107 to 109 of the highway.
"It's a much bigger area," Nelson said of the new advisory.
The red flag warning for the western Kenai Peninsula will be in effect from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. The forecast calls for strong south-to-southwest winds of 10 to 20 mph, with gusts up to 35 mph along Cook Inlet.
Winds are expected to increase during the afternoon and peak in the evening hours, accompanied by low humidity, the weather service said.
The Funny River wildfire neared 100,000 acres in size Saturday morning as firefighters rushed to build containment lines a few miles east of the Sterling Highway, where a large overnight flare-up led to a nerve-wracking night for Kasilof residents.
By about 10:45 p.m. Friday, flames had burst over a ridge and appeared to be running toward the highway.
"A HUGE wall of flames out our window now," Fred Colvin, who lives off Heavy Down Drive near mile 105 of the highway, texted a reporter at 10:46 p.m.
The flare-up prompted a flood of anxious phone calls to emergency managers.
"It was at that crucial point of, 'OK, we need to make a decision now,'" said Brad Nelson, health and safety officer with Central Emergency Services. Officials then issued an evacuation order for about 50 homes between milepost 103 and 105 of the highway.
Alaska State Troopers, Central Emergency Services and firefighters started going door to door. People were ready to go, and the process went smoothly, Nelson said. Crews then moved into the area with equipment to prepare to protect structures.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people gathered at milepost 106 of the highway, watching the fire and taking pictures, said George Pierce, a Kasilof resident.
Not long after the evacuation order, the flames died down. The fire hit swampland and the winds subsided, Nelson said.
At 1:18 a.m., people were told they could they could return to their homes.
"The fire did exactly what we hoped it would do, but we didn't want to take a chance on not (evacuating)," Nelson said.
As of 10 a.m. Saturday, 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.
Fire managers are expecting more fire activity later in the day as winds pick up and humidity decreases, Nelson said. An evacuation watch is still in effect for residents of the Pollard Loop subdivision between milepost 107 and 109 of the Sterling Highway.
Crews are also protecting 10 cabins in the Bear Creek subdivision to the southeast of the fire.
Incident management officials were scrambling Saturday morning to get GIS mapping systems back online. Starting at 3:01 a.m. Saturday, Homer Electric Association briefly de-energized a transmission line closer to the fire perimeter, causing a widespread outage.
Power was fully restored at 3:11 a.m., but the outage caused computer problems at the incident command center that were still unresolved late into the morning, Nelson said.
Information about current smoke conditions is available from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
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
Reach Devin Kelly at email@example.com or 257-4314.
By DEVIN KELLY