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Growing wildfire prompts evacuation advisory north of Kenai River

Michelle Theriault Boots
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 photo
Sam Werner rests in Dan Desmarais’ yard after working furiously to clear trees from his friend John Hohl’s 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 Hohl’s home.
Loren Holmes photo
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 photo
Helicopters drop water on the Funny River fire near Browns Lake on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes photo
A helicopter drops water on a hot spot near the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes photo
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 photo
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 photo
A fire flares up south of Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes photo
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 photo
Dan Desmarais, left, and Steve Schumacher watch the Funny River fire from Desmarais’ deck on Browns Lake on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes photo
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 photo
From left, Levi Hohl, Steve Schumacher, John Hohl and Dan Desmarais watch fire activity from Desmarais’ deck on Browns Lake on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes photo
ohn 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 photo
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 photo
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 photo
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 photo
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 photo
Firefighters douse hot spots along a fire line near Browns Lake on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes photo
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 photo
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 photo
Sam Werner, left, and Levi Hohl put out hot spots along a fire line near Hohl’s brother’s 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 photo
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 photo
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 photo
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 photo
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 photo
A fire burns on the edge of Lake Road in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes photo
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 photo
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 photo
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 photo
A pyrocumulonimbus cloud forms above the northern flank of the Funny River fire on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes photo
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 photo
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
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 photo
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. Hohl’s home is near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna.
Loren Holmes photo
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 photo
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 Hohl’s brother’s property near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014. They were evacuated shortly afterwards.
Loren Holmes photo
An Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter dumps water on the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes photo
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 neighbor’s home, he watched the fire burn less than a half mile from his home.
Loren Holmes photo

Update, 7:30 p.m.: 

The Lower Skilak Lake Campground was being evacuated Sunday evening due to threat of fire, said Michelle Weston, an Alaska Division of Forestry spokeswoman. 

The campground is northeast of where the Funny River Fire is currently burning, Weston said. 

Meanwhile, an evacuation order in effect east of Mile 7 of Funny River Road is expected to be in effect overnight, despite rumors to the contrary, she said.

"People left and they're coming back but they can't go back in the area," Weston said.  "The road is closed."

Update, 7 p.m.:

An evacuation advisory is now in effect from the end of Feuding Lane in Sterling east to the end of Kenai Keys Road, on the north side of the Kenai River.

"Forestry is on the scene, responding to spot fires in the Kenai Keys area," wrote Kenai Peninsula Borough spokeswoman Brenda Ahlberg. 

Fire officials have said that embers carried by the wind have been sparking small "spot" fires in the Kenai Keys area throughout the day. 

There was also a separate house fire in the Kenai Keys area, Ahlberg wrote. 

A temporary Red Cross shelter is being set up at Redoubt Elementary but was not ready to open as of 6:30 p.m. 

The Kenai Peninsula Borough says people evacuating to shelters should bring: 

• Prescriptions and emergency medications;
• Foods that meet unusual dietary requirements;
• Extra clothing, pillows, blankets, hygiene supplies and other comfort items;
• Supplies needed for children and infants, such as diapers, formula and toys Special items for family members who are elderly or disabled;
• They should also try to contact their relatives to let them know where they are and how they are doing.

Update, 5:30 p.m.:

The Funny River fire has not jumped the Kenai River, said Bernie Pineda, a spokesman for the interagency fire command team fighting the blaze.

But wind-tossed embers from the fire have sparked small "spotting" fires on the north side of the river in the Kenai Keys area, Pineda said.

"We've got crews out there beating these things to death as we pick them up," he said.

Pineda said that as of 5 p.m. Sunday he had heard no confirmed reports of structures destroyed in the fire.

An evacuation notice for the area surrounding Funny River Road from Mile 7 east to Fisherman's Drive, including Salmon Run Drive, is in effect, Kenai Peninsula Borough spokeswoman Brenda Ahlberg wrote in an email.

Update, 4 p.m.:

An evacuation notice has been extended from mile 7 of Funny River Road to the end of the road, said Michelle Weston, a spokeswoman for the interagency team managing the Funny River fire. 

Meanwhile, some area residents were complaining on the Alaska Interagency Management Team's Facebook page that they are receiving conflicting information on whether or not they should evacuate their homes.

The evacuation notice in effect for the Funny River Road area is a directive to evacuate, Weston said. 

Dennis Downs, 64, watched as the fire burned across a ridge from his mother in law's house off Alaska View Lane, before an evacuation was ordered for his area.

He had worked with his wife to clear dead trees and spruce away from the home, and a sprinkler was at work wetting down the front yard, but the huge scale of the fire seemed to dwarf those efforts.

"There's a good possibility the house will burn," Downs said.

Downs' wife, Kelly, said her 79-year-old mother had already left the home she's lived in since the 1970s.

"She's just terrified her house is going to go," said Kelly Downs, 52. "Her blessing is she's got a metal roof and vinyl siding and a big yard in front of her."

A few driveways up the dirt road, Jenny Johnson, 60, said she'd been on edge Saturday evening as flames approached so close that "you could actually hear it just roaring."

Her neighbors had already moved horses off their property, and Johnson said she was also ready to go.

"Everything that's important to me is in a little white trailer," she said. "If they say get out, I'm going, and I think they can save the homes here."

Johnson said she'd been staying up late at night with neighbors, and was planning to cook cornbread and a big pot of chili Sunday evening.

But around 3 p.m., as Blackhawk helicopters with water buckets circled overhead, state troopers began circulating through her neighborhood, telling people it was time to leave.

Residents tossed their belongings, and pets, into cars and trucks, thanking firefighters on their way out.

Update, 3:24 p.m.:

The Kenai Peninsula Borough has issued an expanded evacuation notice for residents living south of Funny River Road from Mile 11 to the end of the road, borough spokeswoman Brenda Ahlberg wrote in an email. 

"Homeowners are being notified by Rapid Notify, door-to-door and updated by radio," she wrote.

Original story:

A huge wildfire burning on the Kenai Peninsula has grown to more than 123,000 acres Sunday morning, with 20 percent of the fire contained, officials said. 

The Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team said the Funny River fire was stoked by strong southwesterly winds for much of Saturday. By 11:30 p.m., when the winds died down, the fire was 123,649 acres. 

Winds had decreased by early Sunday afternoon, said Bernie Pineda, a spokesman for the Alaska Fire Service. 

“It’s not going to be as strong as yesterday. Nonetheless, that’s obviously going to test our lines in the north, northeast corner,” Pineda said.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Community Emergency Services expanded an evacuation watch to “include the east side of the Sterling Highway to Funny River Road, and the south side of Funny River Road” for residents in Kasilof and Soldotna, the Alaska Interagency Incident Management team said in an update. “This advisory encourages residents to prepare in case they may need to leave their homes.” 

As of Sunday, 457 firefighters were assigned to the fire, Pineda said. While fire lines were holding, much work was left to be done, he said. 

“We’re far from getting too confident that we’re around the corner from buttoning this thing up,” Pineda said.

Meanwhile, a different fire that started on May 19 and has burned between the villages of Tyonek and Beluga, on the western side of Cook Inlet, was holding steady at 1,906 acres on

Sunday, the Department of Natural Resources said in a release. That fire had not grown significantly in the last 24 hours. 

The National Weather Service says rainfall is expected in much of Southcentral Alaska on Monday, including the areas where wildfires are burning. 

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Contact Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com.