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Kenai Peninsula fire that made for smoky skies through much of the summer is winding down

Pyrocumulus cloud over the Swan Lake Fire as seen from the Sterling Highway on the northern Kenai Peninsula on Monday, June 24, 2019. (Alaska Division of Forestry photo)

A Kenai Peninsula wildfire that burned across nearly 160 square miles and filled the skies around Southcentral with smoke for weeks is dormant and not expected to grow again, officials say.

Started by lightning on June 5, the Swan Lake Fire generated hazy, sometimes acrid air around the Peninsula and into Anchorage and Mat-Su. The smoke triggered air-quality alerts and may have factored into a plane crash near Moose Pass that killed three people and injured one.

But wet weather in recent weeks has allowed crews to turn the corner.

As of this week, the fire will be monitored by air to make sure it doesn’t threaten cabins, transmission lines and other infrastructure, and the Sterling Highway, according to a final update Tuesday by the Alaska Division of Forestry. More than 2 inches of rain fell in the area of the fire in the past week, soaking the top layer though not the deeper duff below.

A warming, drying trend is predicted for the Peninsula into the beginning of August, but no increase in fire activity is expected, fire managers say. Crews are removing pumps, hoses, sprinklers and other equipment from cabins and other structures.

There is still heat within the fire’s perimeter and some areas are expected to smolder “for the foreseeable future,” the update says.

The fire topped out at more than 102,200 acres. It hasn’t grown in several days.

Alaska’s fire season isn’t over yet: 256 fires had burned more than 2.2 million acres this week. Most are being monitored and not actively fought. But crews are still busy in the Upper Yukon and Tanana fire zones, as well as the Chalkyitsik Complex east of Fort Yukon.

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