AD Main Menu

Growing wildfire prompts evacuation watch north of Kenai River

Michelle Theriault Boots,Nat Herz
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Gov
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
An Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter dumps water on the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
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
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
A helicopter drops water on a hot spot near the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
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
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
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
Children play on a trampoline north of Browns Lake Road on Rabbit Run on Sunday afternoon, May 25, 2014.
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
Dan Desmarais, left, and Steve Schumacher watch the Funny River fire from DesmaraisÕ deck on Browns Lake on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Helicopters drop water on the Funny River fire near Browns Lake on Saturday, May 24, 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
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
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
Firefighters douse hot spots along a fire line near Browns Lake on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
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
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
A pyrocumulonimbus cloud forms above the northern flank of the Funny River fire on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
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
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
A fire burns on the edge of Lake Road in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014.
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
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
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
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
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
Skilak lake is shrouded in smoke from the Funny River fire on Saturday afternoon, 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
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
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
Streaks of wildfire debris float on the surface of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
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
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
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
Land owners check on their Bear Creek cabin on the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
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
Streams of smoke billow from the Funny River wildfire along the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
A helicopter shuttles firefighters to the remote Bear Creek subdivision on north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
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
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
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
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
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
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
Clouds of smoke rise above small airplanes parked at the Soldotna Airport near Funny River Road on Thursday evening, May 22, 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
A bulldozer clears a line off Funny River Road on Thursday evening, May 22, 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
An air tanker drops water on the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 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
A firefighter from Central Emergency Service monitors the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Firefighters hydrate while monitoring the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
A firefighter works the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 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
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
A helicopter dropped water on the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, 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
A helicopter dropped water on the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, 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
The Hooper Bay Type 2 wildland firefighters prepare to hike into the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
The Hooper Bay Type 2 wildland firefighters prepare to hike into the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
The Hooper Bay Type 2 wildland firefighter crew hikes into the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
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

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 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, 3:25 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.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344 or Nat Herz at nherz@adn.com.


By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS and NAT HERZ
By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS and NAT HERZ