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Funny River fire jumps Kenai River as nearly 600 firefighters battle blaze

  • Author: Laurel Andrews
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published May 26, 2014

An evacuation advisory for the Kasilof area in the Pollard Loop and Cardwell subdivisions was lifted Monday afternoon, as nearly 600 firefighters continued to battle the ongoing Funny River fire on Southcentral Alaska's Kenai Peninsula.

The Funny River fire had grown to 156,000 acres by Sunday night, said Bernie Pineda, spokesperson for the interagency fire command team fighting the blaze. The fire was just over 30 percent contained on Monday morning.

On Sunday, the fire had spotted to the North side of the Kenai River as southerly winds blew embers across the river, Pineda said. Firefighters put out spots in several areas on the northeast perimeter of the fire, and "picked up some more stuff on Sterling Highway on the Kenai Keys Road" north of the river, he said.

Firefighters were "babysitting" those pieces that had been extinguished Sunday, he said. "We're dousing those with water-bucket drops as needed."

The fire continued to burn Monday north of the Kenai River, parallel to the northern shore of Torpedo Lake, Pineda said, over a "significant" area.

There was still a lot of work occurring up there, Pineda said.

The fire was still holding to the west of the Killey River, where the tributary branches off of the Kenai River, Pineda said.

Firefighters were also working Monday to secure a fire line along the entire western side of the fire, from the Funny River road south to the Tustumena Lake.

"We're having more success on that side," Pineda said, adding that they expected to have that one "buttoned up" by day's end.

Pineda said no structures had succumbed to the blaze as of Monday morning.

"We've been very, very fortunate," Pineda said. However, "the potential is still there with all these homes to the north."

The eastern side of the fire, where it was burning through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, has been "untouched" by firefighting crews, Pineda said. 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.

Evacuation advisory lifted

On Monday, 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 remained in effect for the area surrounding Funny River Road from Mile 7 east to Fisherman's Drive, including Salmon Run Drive, Pineda said.

After issuing the evacuation notice on Funny River Road on Sunday, around 1,000 homes were identified as needing to be evacuated. Roughly 200 people who were still in their homes were contacted "eyeball to eyeball" by officials, Pineda said. Everyone else had already evacuated.

"Everybody should be out at this point," Pineda said.

Many residents moved to a sports center in Soldotna, which had been set up as an emergency shelter for evacuees.

The Red Cross also set up a shelter at Redoubt Elementary School on Sunday. Just two people took shelter at the school overnight, said Red Cross Emergency Operation Center liaison Jeanette Hanneman. More residents were expected to stay overnight Monday as the word got out that the shelter was up and running.

The Redoubt Elementary School was being used as both a day shelter and "confirmation hub" for residents, Hanneman said. Roughly 150 residents attended an update Monday morning at the school, she said.

Sterling Elementary school was on standby to be used as backup shelter, should the need arise, Hanneman said.

Light rain was forecast for the Western Kenai starting Tuesday morning and continuing through Tuesday night. That will likely break up into showers on Wednesday, said Bob Clay, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Anchorage.

The cooler, wetter weather pattern is expected to continue through late this week, Clay said, and should provide "some assistance" in the firefighters' efforts to control the blaze.