The Swan Lake Fire, ignited by lightning on June 5, is being managed but not fully suppressed on the Kenai Peninsula 28 air miles south of Anchorage, Alaska. On August 17 it spread south across the Sterling Highway and has now grown to over 162,000 acres.
The Sterling Highway, Alaska Route 1, is a major thoroughfare that goes south from Anchorage down the Kenai Peninsula to Sterling, Soldotna, and Homer. During the night of August 25 some motorists on the highway found themselves driving past a crowning timber fire that was approaching the highway with what looked like 50 to 75-foot flames that were in some cases very close to the road. Some drivers said traffic alternated between slow rubber-necking and then rapid acceleration where flames were near, adding another variable to the smoke and dodging construction barriers.
After travelers reported on social media some of their experiences driving past the flames, the Incident Commander of the Swan Lake Fire produced a video to shed some light on the incident. He explained the conditions on the highway were “constantly monitored” for fire and smoke hazards. He said at one point they closed the highway but before they could completely sweep that section some travelers were still in the area with active fire.
Firefighters are making progress on the 100,000-acre Swan Lake Fire 50 air miles south of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula.
One of their key objectives is now complete — to cut off the southwest side from the Sterling Highway to the muskeg wetland areas on the south and west side of the fire. This is significant because it should keep the fire from moving further west toward Sterling.
Ahead of the fire, firefighters continue to thin brush and understory vegetation along the Skyline Trail and Fuller Lakes Trail on the east side of the fire perimeter near Cooper Landing. The purpose of this effort is to reduce the chance of the fire spreading east along the highway corridor.
Five more hotshot crews are leaving today from Redding to assist with fires in Alaska: Elk Mountain, Modoc, Mad River, Eldorado and American River.
Alaska is in Preparedness Level 5, the maximum on the scale. The state has had more wildfire activity than usual for the last month or so, but record high temperatures last week beefed it up even more. The number of acres burned in the state varies greatly annually. In most years the total acreage burned is between 300,000 and 500,000. In 2013 it was 1.3 million and in 2015, 5.1 million acres burned. So far this year the total is 937,000 acres. The average over the last 10 years is 1.3 million.
The largest fire currently burning in the state is the 145,000-acre Hess Creek Fire 26 miles southeast of Steven’s Village. The blaze was very active Sunday, adding another 30,000 acres.
The second largest is the 96,000-acre Swan Lake Fire 50 air miles south of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula. The activity on this fire has slowed in recent days.
Six Hotshot crews from Oregon and Montana arrived in Alaska this week to help suppress wildfires burning in the state.
Lewis and Clark
Lewis and Clark is on the 300-acre Caribou Creek Fire 20 miles northeast of Fairbanks, while the other five are on the Swan Lake Fire which has burned 23,200 acres on the Kenai Peninsula 32 air miles southwest of Anchorage.
Alaska-based crews are also committed to fires in the state, including the Chena and Pioneer Peak Hotshot crews, plus 11 Type 2 crews.
At least 13 individuals from the lower 48 states are serving in overhead positions in Alaska.
The Swan Lake Fire is approximately 12 miles long and nearly 4 miles wide and continues to grow each day on the eastern flank as weather drives the fire primarily to the east and north. The addition of three type 2 Alaska hand crews as well as the recent influx of the Redmond, Wolf Creek, Vale, Winema and Lakeview Hotshot crews have bolstered efforts to establish direct and indirect lines on the critical east and southeastern perimeter lines.
Below is an 80-second video update by Operations Chief Chris Wennogle about the Swan Lake Fire.