As firefighting crews on Wednesday continued efforts to limit the growth of the Swan Lake fire toward Cooper Landing, authorities urged people in that Kenai Peninsula community to remain prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
The fire was 160,033 acres as of Wednesday, marking an increase of about 2,000 acres compared to Tuesday. Crews are digging contingency lines aimed at blocking the fire’s advancement and working to protect structures in Cooper Landing. That involves clearing brush from around homes and other buildings, and setting up water sprinklers in the area, said Brian Scott, a spokesman for the incident management team working on the Swan Lake fire. Heavy smoke in the Cooper Landing area Wednesday kept aircraft grounded, according to fire officials.
There has been “very little, if any, growth toward Cooper Landing” since Tuesday, Scott said Wednesday afternoon. The threat to that community is “not imminent by any means,” he said.
“If that was the case, they would probably have been asked to go already,” he said.
Some people in Cooper Landing have already left, even though there hasn’t yet been an official evacuation order to do so. Others there have wrestled this week with whether to stay or go.
About 670 firefighters were working on battling the Swan Lake blaze as of Tuesday night, Scott said. He added that “other fires in the area have been releasing some of their firefighters and equipment,” and the team managing the Swan Lake effort has been using freed-up resources when it can.
The Swan Lake fire is the biggest currently burning in Southcentral Alaska. Other blazes in the region ignited about a week and a half ago, but the Swan Lake fire was started by a lightning strike back in June. High winds in mid-August breathed new life into it, fueling its recent growth.
“There’s probably more firefighters in Cooper Landing than there are residents,” said Michael Davis, another spokesman for the incident management team on the Swan Lake fire.
An atypically dry, hot summer has brought high fire danger in Southcentral and a fire season that has carried on later than usual for the region.
Travel is still not advised on the Sterling Highway between Mile 71 and Mile 36 (where it meets the Seward Highway), the Alaska Department of Transportation said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Sterling Highway was still partially open in that area, with pilot cars leading vehicles through, according to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management. But the wait time “can be three to four hours,” the OEM blog said, and people should be prepared with water and food.
Crews have increased containment significantly this week on two other fires farther north, in the Susitna Valley.
The McKinley fire burning north of Willow was 70% contained as of Tuesday evening, according to the state’s wildfire information website. The Deshka Landing fire southwest of Willow was also 70% contained.