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Crews spend Memorial Day dueling with northern, western flanks of Funny River fire

Laurel Andrews

Firefighters continued to battle the growing Funny River fire on Southcentral Alaska's Kenai Peninsula Monday evening as crews battled a hot spot that had flared up north of the Kenai River the day before.

The fire had grown to an estimated 158,585 acres by 11 p.m. Sunday night -- still the most recent estimate available as of Monday evening -- mostly in the south and south-easterly corners of the blaze, said Bernie Pineda, spokesperson for the interagency fire command team. The fire was roughly 30 percent contained Monday evening, Pineda said, with just under 600 firefighters assigned to the fire.

On Sunday, the fire spotted to the north side of the Kenai River, as southerly winds blew embers across the water. Crews had extinguished several hotspots along the Kenai Keys road -- "those are history," Pineda said -- but were still fighting a "significant" hot spot running parallel to the northern shore of Torpedo Lake on the north side of the Kenai Monday evening.

Firefighters also worked Monday to secure the entire western perimeter of the blaze, from Funny River Road south to Tustumena Lake. Pineda said Monday evening crews had made "excellent progress" in securing the western edge of the fire.

The eastern side of the fire, where it was burning through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, has been "untouched" by firefighting crews, Pineda said Monday morning. The interagency fire command team was working with the refuge to determine how much farther they wanted to let the fire continue to burn to the east, he said.

No structures had succumbed to the blaze as of about 6:30 p.m. Monday, Pineda said.

On Monday afternoon, an evacuation advisory that had been in place for three days was lifted for the Kasilof area, in the Pollard Loop and Cardwell subdivisions, according to the incident information website.

The Lower Skilak Lake Campground was still under an evacuation notice on Monday due to threat of fire. The fire was burning south of Skilak Lake, roughly 3 or 4 miles from the shore, said Michelle Weston, Alaska Division of Forestry spokesperson.

An evacuation advisory remained 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.

An evacuation notice also remained in effect for the area surrounding Funny River Road from Mile 7 east to Fisherman's Drive, including Salmon Run Drive, Pineda said. Around 1,000 homes were identified as needing to be evacuated. All residents were evacuated by Monday morning, Pineda said.

A cooler, wetter weather pattern was expected to move into the western Kenai Tuesday morning, bringing light rain on Tuesday and scattered showers on Wednesday and Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

Reach Laurel Andrews at laurel@alaskadispatch.com.


By LAUREL ANDREWS
laurel@alaskadispatch.com