Update 2 a.m. Tuesday:
The Swan Lake Fire was burning alongside the Sterling Highway overnight Monday, and authorities said the total highway closure could continue into Tuesday.
A 24-mile stretch of the Kenai Peninsula highway was closed, from Adkins Road in Sterling at Mile 77 on the west to Mile 53 at the Resurrection Pass trailhead on the east.
Free camping for stranded motorists was available in Soldotna at Centennial and Swiftwater parks, authorities said. The Soldotna rodeo grounds were available for people with livestock or other animals.
Update 7:45 p.m. Monday: Traffic has halted once more on the Sterling Highway, this time between miles 53 and 77, because of increased activity from the Swan Lake fire.
The fire was backing, or moving into the wind or down a slope, toward the Sterling Highway near mile 72, north of Skilak Lake Road, the Kenai Peninsula Borough said in a Monday evening update.
“Firefighters expect smoke from the fire to affect the travel on the Sterling Highway for a limited time,” the borough said.
Alaska State Troopers said traffic is stopped in both directions, and troopers will sweep vehicle traffic along the affected area. Flaggers will be posted at the Adkins Road to the east, and at the intersection of Resurrection Pass Trail and the Sterling Highway to the west.
Earlier story: A 22-mile stretch of the Sterling Highway on the Kenai Peninsula was reopened Monday after the Swan Lake fire prompted a closure Sunday.
Traffic was moving in both directions again as of about noon, a spokeswoman with the state’s forestry division said. Due to ongoing fire activity, no stopping along the highway will be allowed, officials said in an update on the state’s fire information website.
If conditions change, travel could be changed to escorted or one-way, or halted again.
The highway was shut down Sunday between miles 53 and 75 — from around the Russian River campground almost to Sterling — as strong winds spread the Swan Lake fire.
A “ready” order for a potential evacuation of Cooper Landing remained in place Monday, said Sarah Saarloos, a fire information officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry. There is also a “ready” order in place for the Sterling neighborhoods east of Feuding Lane and east of Adkins Road, state agencies said.
By Monday morning, the fire had grown to about 127,000 acres, up from about 112,000 acres on Sunday, Saarloos said. Most of that growth happened Sunday, she said.
The fire was at about 20% containment as of midmorning Monday, Saarloos said. Calmer winds will help crews’ ability to determine a strategy to address the fire’s growth.
“With the decrease in winds, that will also decrease the spread of the fire,” Saarloos said. “So that gives firefighters opportunity to assess where the new fire perimeter is at on the landscape.”
Highway conditions may continue to be smoky. Authorities urged people to drive slowly and with headlights on. Alaska State Troopers will be monitoring traffic.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.