Alaska News

Kenai Peninsula fire threatens hundreds of structures; residents told to evacuate

Update, 9:12 a.m. Tuesday:

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the Card Street Fire was not yet contained or controlled, Alaska Interagency Coordination Center spokesperson Pete Buist said Tuesday morning.

An incident management team was heading to the Kenai Peninsula fire Tuesday.

No injuries have been reported.

Update, 7:37 a.m. Tuesday:

An evacuation area around Sterling expanded overnight as officials added a long list of streets to those under threat from the expanding Card Street Fire.

At 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, the evacuation was expanded to include subdivisions from Card Street west to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge at Mile 76 and south of the Sterling Highway. This is includes Lepus Avenue, Arlene Avenue, Zenith Street, Caffyn Avenue, and Anetta Street.

Original story:

A fire reported Monday afternoon on the Kenai Peninsula grew rapidly through the day, burning at least six structures and prompting an evacuation alert in the Sterling area, emergency officials said.

First reported at 1:52 p.m. as a grass fire, the blaze – named the Card Street fire -- was estimated at 1,200 acres by late Monday "and growing," said Tim Mowry, public information officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry. Six structures had been destroyed and hundreds of homes were threatened, he said.

"It looks like it's burning mostly spruce, which is pretty volatile," Mowry said. "By the time firefighters got there it was torching and crowning the trees. Once you get a fire that is torching and crowning, it can grow pretty ugly because it jumps from one tree to the next."

Mowry said the fire was human-caused, but what specifically sparked the flames remained under investigation.

"The fire was burning in grass in an area accessible only by four-wheeler," said a statement from the Division of Forestry.

An initial voluntary evacuation of Feuding Lane and Kenai Keys Road was expanded by evening to include the areas of Salmon Run Drive to the end of Fisherman's Road and Dow Island, said Brenda Ahlberg, public information officer with the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

The span of the evacuation soon grew to include subdivisions off of Feuding Lane to the Sterling Highway and Kenai Keys to the Kenai River, Ahlberg said. The evacuation was no longer described as "voluntary." The total evacuation area encompassed roughly 232 structures, Ahlberg said.

"These are the areas that need to be evacuated for life safety and for the ability of fire crews to get in and work," she said. "We would like to help people help themselves and get out of there as fast as they can."

Flames jumped the Kenai River in a few areas, leaving firefighters to chase down spot fires using a helicopter with a water bucket, Mowry said.

The fire was moving to the south and attempting to cross the Kenai River near Torpedo Lake, in the same area that the Funny River Horse Trail fire crossed last year -- but in the opposite direction, Mowry said around 7:30 p.m.

Firefighters completed burn-out operations along Kenai Keys Road to reduce potential fuel for the fire, said the Division of Forestry statement.

Responding to the fire were Central Emergency Services, Alaska Division of Forestry, U.S. Forest Service, Nikiski Volunteer Fire Department and Kachemak Bay Emergency Services. Six aircraft responded to the fire Monday, Mowry said.

"More crews have been ordered and should arrive tomorrow," he said.

Temperatures in the Sterling area hovered in the 80s Monday afternoon and were forecasted to return to the low 80s on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

"That's not typical for the Kenai Peninsula," Mowry said.

An information hotline was set up with the Office of Emergency Management at 907-714-2495.

Jesi Beauchamp, a board member for the Soldotna Equestrian Association, said the organization would open the Soldotna rodeo grounds to all livestock needing to be evacuated.

Beauchamp wrote on Facebook: "Board members have trailers hooked on and ready to roll, as well as space at their houses for critters. We also have several points of contact for other residents with trailers and space at their houses. Laurie has room for dogs as well! 398-3656 (Laurie), 690-3501 (myself), or 252-5247 (Connie)."

Another, unrelated fire was also reported Monday near Anchor Point on the southern Kenai Peninsula, said Sam Harrel, information officer with Alaska Fire Service. It had burned one-tenth of an acre Monday afternoon and was extinguished by evening.

"That was just a small grass fire alongside the road that they doused pretty quickly," Mowry said.