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Investigators say Funny River fire human-caused but not by campfire

Tegan Hanlon

Fire investigators said Wednesday that they're convinced humans sparked the Funny River fire on May 19, though exactly how that happened remains unclear.

"They can definitely say it wasn't a campfire, but they can't say exactly what caused the fire yet," said Doug Newbould, fire management officer for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

An investigation determined that the flames started a little west of Woodcut Road, an old oil and gas exploration road in the refuge, just south of Funny River Road, Newbould said.

Newbould said the land surrounding Woodcut Road is a "popular place for people to recreate." It's a grassy area with scattered Aspen sapling, he said.

"There's a lot of different visitors that use that area because it's right across from the subdivision," Newbould said. "I know there's people that go out there and walk their dogs. I know there's people that go out there and run on the road. I know that there's people who go out there and ride their mountain bikes. We know that there's bear hunters in the area."

After the fire sparked, it quickly spread, fueled by wind, through the parched grass and adjacent forested area, fire officials have said. It continued to burn more than 183,000 acres by Wednesday evening.

Newbould said it was premature to speculate possible causes of the flames but said investigators found "some evidence" on scene leading them to eliminate campfire as a source.

The U.S. Department of the Interior released a statement Wednesday asking anyone who may have information on the fire cause or about people or vehicles in the area on the afternoon of May 19 to call troopers at 907-262-4453.

Reach Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@adn.com or 257-4589.


By TEGAN HANLON
thanlon@adn.com