Cooler, wet weather helped crews take the offensive against the Kenai Peninsula fire Wednesday, though rugged terrain to the east made access difficult, said the Alaska Interagency Command Center.
Officials were able to lift all remaining evacuation advisories related to the Funny River Horse Trail Fire by Wednesday afternoon, while estimates of the fire's span revealed that the blaze continued to grow. Its size was reported at 183,294 acres Wednesday -- about 1,000 acres larger than Tuesday's number -- with 30 percent containment.
"Fire activity has calmed down considerably," Tom Lavagnino, fire information officer, said Wednesday evening.
More than 710 people battled the fire Wednesday. With fire lines secured on the west and north flanks, crews focused on the northeast corner, where a spot fire burned earlier in the week at Kenai Keys. Six crews split attacks from the east and the west, laying fire lines, Lavagnino said.
Lavagnino said steady moisture, high humidity and quiet winds prompted a less aggressive burn Wednesday compared to what firefighters saw over the weekend. Nearly a half-inch of rain fell Tuesday night.
"It's not a wetting rain," Lavagnino said. "And it's certainly not enough to put a fire out."
The forecast calls for heavier rainfall later in the week. Officials said several straight days of heavy rain are needed to change overall fire activity, and people should expect to see smoke from inside the perimeter of the fire into summer.
The human-caused fire was sparked on May 19 in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. People flying in a helicopter overhead first reported the fire but did not spot anyone suspicious, said Doug Newbould, fire management officer for the refuge. Officials asked for the public's help Wednesday in determining who was in the area the afternoon that the flames began.
So far the fire has swallowed four recreational cabins with limited access and one outbuilding, including one historic structure, Lavagnino said. On the eastern flank, the most active part of the fire, crews were protecting various structures and land assets Wednesday, yet rugged terrain made access difficult.
The areas they aimed to protect included a Native allotment on Harvey Lake and a handful of private and historic cabins on the shore of Tustumena Lake, two private parcels on Skilak Lake, at Douglas Point and at the Alaska Wildland Adventures Camp, Newbould said. A public-use cabin on Emma Lake is also being protected.
Crews were also determining whether a fish weir on the Killey River, run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was defensible, Newbould said. Five people who were camping there to count king salmon were evacuated in a helicopter several days ago.
Officials said the Lower Skilak Lake campground, evacuated Sunday, remains closed until further notice.
Good news came Wednesday on the other significant fire in the state. Officials declared full containment for the Tyonek Fire that last week threatened homes and energy infrastructure in Tyonek and Beluga on the west side of Cook Inlet. The fire burned about 1,900 acres. A number of crews are leaving that fire; some will be reassigned to the Kenai.
Since April 1, 179 human-caused fires have burned a total of 185,898 acres across the sate, said a statement from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
Reach Zaz Hollander at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4317.
By ZAZ HOLLANDER, DEVIN KELLY and TEGAN HANLON