Alaska: Funny River Fire becomes megafire

 (UPDATE at noon, MDT, May 29, 2014)

The Funny River Fire at Soldotna, Alaska has burned 192,831 acres and the Incident Management Team is calling it 46 percent contained.

Below is a report from the Team:

Cooler, damper weather moderated fire activity on Tuesday which allowed firefighters to switch from defense to offence for the first time since the Funny River Fire started nine days ago. Crews reinforced the containment lines on the west side of the fire in the Kasilof and Sterling Highway areas, and in the Funny River Road area. Progress was made with containment line on the north side of Torpedo Lake on the north side of the Kenai River. Overall fire containment is now 30 percent, with 713 firefighters working to keep the fire away from populated areas.

The evacuation order along the Funny River Road was cancelled yesterday and most residents returned to their homes. All remaining evacuation advisories have been lifted. The Lower Skilak Lake Campground remains closed until further notice.

Five structures were confirmed as lost to the fire. The owners were notified by the Kenai Peninsula Borough. These structures include one outbuilding (the main structure was saved), and four recreation cabins with limited access.

On Tuesday firefighters rescued five abandoned wolf pups on the fire. Check out the story and the photos HERE.

We posted some very interesting satellite photos of the fire in another article.

****

(UPDATE at 6:28 p.m. MDT, May 27, 2014) An update from the Funny River Fire incident Managment team at about 6 p.m. MDT:

Firefighters made excellent progress yesterday extending containment lines on the west side of the fire in the Kasilof and Sterling Highway areas. Crews also completed burnout operations along the northern perimeter (south of Funny River road) late in the day helping to secure areas that had burned over containment lines on Sunday. The fire grew to over 182,000 acres as winds continued to push the fire perimeter northeast towards the Skilak Lake Road and further east into the wildlife refuge area. Overall fire containment is now 30 percent.

 

The evacuation order along the Funny River road has been cancelled. Residents are allowed to return to their homes. This area remains under an evacuation advisory. The evacuation advisory along the Sterling Highway was also lifted. The Kenai Keys area remains under an evacuation advisory. The Lower Skilak Lake Campground remains closed until further notice.

**** (UPDATE at 10:35 a.m. MDT, May 27, 2014)

Funny River Fire, May 27, 2014
Funny River Fire, May 27, 2014 (ESRI). The black annotations were added by Wildfire Today.

On Monday the Type 2 Incident Management Team for the Funny River Fire at Soldotna, Alaska mentioned that the fire had crossed the Kenai River near Torpedo Lake. The map, above, that we found on the Team’s Facebook page (it is not on their InciWeb page) shows that the fire has become established east of the river. It is no longer just a spot fire. Monday night the Team said the fire had burned 176,069 acres and 670 personnel were assigned. There have been no serious injuries. It is becoming difficult to find current, official information about the fire. Sometimes it is placed on InciWeb, occasionally it can be found on the Alaska Wildland Fire Information site, and then there’s Facebook and ESRI. There is a report from a Twitter user that it is raining in the fire area:

**** (UPDATE at 8:45 p.m. MDT, May 26, 2014)

Map of Funny RiverFire May 26, 2014
Map of Funny RiverFire. The white line was the perimeter at 9 p.m. May 23. The perimeter at 4 a.m. May 26 is shown in red.

The incident management team running the Funny River Fire at Soldotna, Alaska reported the fire has burned 158,585 acres and it is 30 percent contained. It crossed the Kenai River Sunday afternoon near Torpedo Lake just east of the Kenai Keys. Several spot fires within the Keys did minor damage but were quickly put out. The team is working to confirm if any structures were lost. The wind driven fire is continuing to spread northeast towards the Skilak Lake Road. The Lower Skilak Lake Campground was evacuated and is closed until further notice. The Kenai Keys area is under an evacuation advisory. The weather forecast is calling for rain early Tuesday. Cooler and wet weather will help slow fire activity.

**** (UPDATE at 5:07 p.m. MDT, May 25, 2014)

Funny River Fire map, May 25, 2014
Funny River Fire map, May 25, 2014

The Funny River Fire at Soldotna, Alaska on the Kenai Peninsula grew on Saturday to cross the 100,000-acre threshold we have informally designated as a megafire, expanding to 123,649 acres according to the Incident Management Team.  Strong southwesterly winds associated with a Red Flag Warning produced crown fire runs on the east side of the fire. However, firefighters were able to stop the fire’s northward progress at a fuel break near Browns Lake, south of Sterling and Funny River Road. The video below shows the arrival of the fire at the fuel break. There have been no reports of any structures burning in the fire. Radio station KSRM’s Facebook page has been providing updates.

**** (Originally published at 9:28 p.m. MDT, May 24, 2014) Map of Funny River Fire, May 24, 2014 A fire with an unusual name is about to qualify for megafire status. As far as I know, there is no official definition of a megafire, so I have decided that 100,000 acres is the threshold. Friday at 5 p.m. the Funny River Fire had burned 96,587 acres south of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula, but grew significantly Friday night. The fire started at the town of Soldotna and initially burned along Funny River Road. The Incident Management Team is calling it 20 percent contained.

Funny River Fire 7:25 p.m. AK time May 24, 2014
Pyrocumulus clouds forming over the Funny River Fire at 7:25 p.m. AK time May 24, 2014. Looking southeast from Soldotna. FAA photo.

On Friday the Alaska Wildland Fire Information web site, which is an interagency website developed by federal and state agencies in Alaska, posted a map. The fire with an unusual name then had an unusual official map. Apparently on Saturday, someone took a map from the day before, May 23, grabbed a red marker and a pen, and drew in another 18,000 acres or so of red burned area that runs off the edge of the map — and then wrote by hand, “96,587 acres” in the middle of the fire. We have to assume it is legit, since the map is on the official interagency web site, a source for fire information. And the acreage is confirmed on the Alaska site as well as InciWeb. Maybe there were technical problems in producing an updated computer generated map. This hand-drawn version works fine. Well, except for the portion of the fire that ran off the edge of the page. But we applaud the incident management team for distributing needed information. Below is an excerpt from a Saturday morning update from the Alaska Type 2 Interagency Incident Management Team, with Incident Commander Rob Allen.

Yesterday firefighters made further progress constructing fire containment lines along the north and northwest sides of the #funnyriverfire and containment is now at 20 percent. At 5 PM [Friday], the fire was 96,584 acres, but enlarged significantly overnight. 409 personnel are assigned to the fire. Aerial resources supporting the fire suppression effort include five helicopters and four CL215 water scooping air tankers from Canada. The fire continues to actively burn in black spruce and mixed hardwoods due to the continued warm and extremely dry conditions on the Kenai Peninsula. On the east side of the fire westerly winds drove the fire over five miles during an eight hour period; this growth was away from existing communities. Fire growth to the west towards the Sterling Highway during the day was slow, with the fire backing into the southwest winds.

The video below was uploaded to YouTube Saturday night, and apparently shows the fire approaching a fire line near Funny River Road– with very impressive flames. The description says the line held. It’s hard to believe there were no spot fires over the line.

Over on Fire Aviation there are some recently taken photos of air tankers staged in Alaska.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

28 thoughts on “Alaska: Funny River Fire becomes megafire”

  1. The story with the maps includes some high drama overnight on Friday night. Shortly before midnight there was an evacuation called, with people and in some cases, lifestock, fleeing ahead of some extreme fire activity. There was a scramble among officials including utility companies, who had stated they would shut off natural gas flow to the evacuated area. The local electric utility did a planned power outage for a short time so they could reroute some service. Apparently this outage affected computer equipment in the incident command center, normally used to produce the maps. In order to obtain maps, certain aircraft containing GPS have to fly the fire, but the smoke was so intense Friday that some of these aircraft were grounded for a time, also affecting their ability to produce the maps. We are told that the 96 thousand figure was as of 5PM Friday, the fire has grown considerably since that time, and that a new map will be available after 9PM AKST tonight.

    I’m not connected with the response, just a private citizen in the region soaking up every bit of information that comes out. One great source of information is radio station KSRM in Soldotna – website http://www.radiokenai.net (down due to high traffic) and Facebook page at KSRM 920 AM offers everything from pictures and video to reports on official pronouncements .
    https://tagboard.com/funnyriverfire is an aggregation of many things related to the fire and http://peninsulaclarion.com/news/2014-05-22/funny-river-wildfire-5-percent-contained will give you some background. Fire info number is 1-907-714-2487. It’s a pretty darn scary situation, including ash falling from the sky 100 miles away.

    1. My kids live in Central Calif. and have it on the news all the time. I have people calling and asking how we are all the time. We live in Talkeetna. My heart and prayers go out to all of those people who are in the path of this storm. God bless and keep all of you. And a special prayer for all the men and women who are fighting and serving firefighters during this time. Father keep them safe!

  2. I am a life lon resident of Soldotna and would like to know why this is not on “ANY’othernews stations down south here. I am in Washington State and the only reson I hearsd about this is because my parents live in sterling.

    1. It will prob reach other new stations now that it’s a “mega fire” I don’t have tv so I had to see the posts on fb. My mom mentioned something about smoke on Saturday and I had no clue what she was talking about. Hope your home is ok.

  3. our daughter lives in Soldotna. the only reason we have any information is her. not one tv, radio or newspaper has mentioned the fire. how ever here in iowa we have heard plenty about the fires in the lower 48. a state is still part of the United States.

  4. We also wonder why the only news about these fires came to us by our daughter who lives in Sterling. She texted last night that they were prepared to evacuate! That was the first we knew anything about the fires, which led us to the Internet to find details. Seems a stunning disregard for Alaska!

    1. T. DeBerry — Perhaps it is a “stunning disregard for Alaska” — but it is also typical. As a born/raised Alaskan, the ignorance of and disregard for Alaska shown in the South 48 is legend.

      1. Equalled only by Alaskans attitude toward “the Lower 48”. Lived in AK twice, and it never got better.

  5. I don’t understand why we have no news on t.v. ect. about this fire. The only way is my daughter and granddaughters still live there in Kenai and that’s how we heard about it WHY.

  6. i too wonder why the heck this isn’t more publicized. i only know about it because of a friend who works in fire and also has long-standing ties to the area and because i work for the usfws and one of our refuges is burning. i’ll bet folks all over AK all heard about the fires down here in southern california.

  7. I too am sorry AK. Isn’t publicized enough & now it has to be something like this. I pray for all the people involved. AK is a beautiful state. I lived there for 8 yrs. wishing everyone prayers & the best.

  8. Would like to see any info on this fire. My son is a hotshot from Wolf Creek Oregon. We have heard nothing since Thursday last.

      1. Facebook has been an incredible source through “funny river fire” and the interagency gorup

        1. Good call. Sometimes I forget that the IMTs/Feds have finally figured out social media is a good way to get info out.

  9. Regarding this little gem of Commo and info FUBAR

    This type of operation with lack of info in today’s world is SURELY looking for a Congressional, GAO audits, and an AAR showing how ineffective the training has been in this arena and agencies not assisting other agencies getting the word out!!!!!

    1. Fire got within 800 meters of our home. The firebreak put in by firefighters from all over the western US held. It saved us. If it hadn’t held we were cut off against the lake. This fire has burned off almost 200K acres and due to the efforts of the firefighters not a single life or structure has been lost. When it was time to evacuate two troopers and a Park ranger came by my house to notify us. We got the reverse 911 call with instructions to leave and where to go. If it comes down to keeping bystanders informed or those at risk safe. I chose the latter. I’m sorry you feel so strongly about the lack of information. My family is safe because of the notification we received and the actions of firefighters and troopers.

  10. Lived in Kenai from ’68-’70, and have maintained contact with my ‘family’ in Kenai for the past 46 years, & visit as often as I can,.
    When I found out about the fire, I was ‘all over it’, trying to get information. Funny how Atlanta-based CNN is so completely involved in their own precious “all matters EAST COAST and Midwest”, that a Superfire in ALASKA of all places has to be the size of CHICAGO to get any air time! It makes me SICK!! {Shame on the Lower 48 Stupidass News…. worthless}

  11. The Federal Government is responsible for this.
    The State has been cleaning out debris and dead trees.
    The Feds as usual do nothing.
    Same on you Feds for letting our forest go to waste.

    1. Most of the fire is burning in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge (map). However, there are many forces that affect the way a wildfire burns, including the warm, dry, windy weather that has been pushing the fire over the last several days.

  12. In my opinion, the IC’s response to the fire has been outstanding. We have a large wind driven fire in a state without a lot of resources. The IC has done a masterful job of utilizing limited resources at decisive points to protect structures and lives. He has also done a good job of establishing branches and divisions and feeding in resources as they come on line. The air support has been pretty flexible and we have seen the helos and fixed wing platforms shift from division to division throughout the day based on emerging priorities.
    I know early on some people thought the IC should have tried to put the fire out in it’s entirety, but given the size of the fire and available resources that was never realistic.
    IC has had a good plan and executed it well. Hopefully he will finally get a break with a little rain.

  13. No body here is questioning whether or not the IC is “outstanding.”

    Simple fact remains…..numbers of people were not hearing or reading reports about this fire

    There are PIO / PAO’s out there and InciWeb too that need some training and updating…..I may not know the whole story…….but if folks can read the basic premise by numbers here that stated they’ve heard no information…..throwing red herrings on good the response is…..surely one can read that here….seems not so genuine….but what the hell do I know?

    I was “ruff” in saying what I said earlier……but the LMA’s still have problems with simple communications no matter how “outstanding” an IC might be

  14. I live here. The people that live here are getting the info they require. All the complaints about a lack of information are from people who are not in proximity to the fire. The info is getting out. Whether or not the media decides to pick up on it is another matter and one that I really couldn’t care less about.

  15. As a young child I lived on The Kenai Peninsula, through several major fires. My prayers for all of you. May we also pray for, rain, and a reversal of wind so this thing will “back burn” itself and stop. Maybe a “freak” heavy snow in June. Oh wait, we still have a couple days of May. Bring it on now.

  16. What would it take to mobilize a faster response time of many fire fighters and fire equipment to put the fire out when it was smaller?

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