Fire officials are continuing to allow a nearly 13,000-acre wildfire in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to burn while taking precautions to keep it from spreading to homes and infrastructure in the area.
Meanwhile, smoke from the Swan Lake wildfire tipped air quality toward unhealthy in some Kenai Peninsula communities this weekend.
The Swan Lake wildfire started with a lightning strike on June 6, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center. As of Sunday it had burned 12,782 acres of land, mostly black spruce and grasses, in an area about 5 miles east of the community of Sterling, the center said in an update.
Over the weekend, crews worked to build fire lines to keep the blaze from spreading into developed areas near Sterling. Some 94 people are working on the fire, according to the update.
They also worked to protect an thermoelectric generator located east of the fire that’s used to operate the pipeline that sends natural gas from the Kenai Peninsula to Anchorage, a Division of Forestry update said.
Recent cool, wet weather has helped firefighters, the Division of Forestry said.
“Anticipating a change in the weather to warmer and drier, firefighters today will continue building and fortifying line along the south finger of the fire, south of the pipeline corridor,” the statement from the Division of Forestry said.
On Saturday, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation issued an air quality alert for areas of the Kenai Peninsula, warning that smoke from the Swan Lake fire “trapped below low level clouds” could foul air in some communities. The alert is in effect through Monday.
“Expect smoke from the wildfire to spread throughout of northwest area of the Kenai Peninsula, specifically impacting air quality in the communities of Sterling, Soldotna, Kenai, and Nikiski,” the advisory said. “Air Quality will vary between good and unhealthy depending on wind flow and proximity to the fires.”
The Alaska Division of Forestry is working with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to allow the fire to burn safely, the statement said.
“They aim to reduce future wildland fire hazards and enhance wildlife habitat by allowing for fire’s natural role: creating a diversity of vegetation types and tree age classes,” the agency said.
Parts of the landscape haven’t seen a fire since 1947, according to the Division of Forestry.