Swan Lake Fire prompts open fire ban in state and national parks on the peninsula

After a brief period of slowed growth, the Swan Lake Fire flared up again on Monday — reaching 99,086 acres, according to an update from the Northwest 13 Incident Management Team.

Due to exceptionally warm and dry conditions on the Kenai Peninsula, the fire is consuming fuels that would normally be resistant to burning. To the north and east, the fire continued to spread through stands of black spruce. Heading east into the mountains, fire growth has slowed through alpine vegetation and patches of aspen and other hardwoods. The south and west flanks of the blaze saw successful containment as the fire remained within established fire lines along the east fork of Moose River.

In response to current extreme fire danger, all open fires are prohibited immediately, including campfires, until further notice, in Kenai Peninsula State Parks, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Kenai Fjords National Park and Chugach National Forest lands on the Kenai Peninsula. Use of cooking stoves and gas grills is allowed. In addition, Kenai Peninsula State Parks will allow the use of charcoal in contained cooking grills but these remain prohibited on other listed public lands.

The fire is being managed by a total of 406 personnel from various local, state and federal agencies. Crews on the ground are working from temporary spike camps in remote locations as fire activity shifts over the landscape. These camps are often inaccessible by road or trail, so food, water and supplies are delivered to the firefighters via helicopter.

As the fire approaches historic cabins to the north and east, firefighters are reducing flammable vegetation and setting up sprinklers around these structures for protective measures.

As the week progresses, a change in the weather is expected due to a shift in wind patterns and possible thunderstorms over the Kenai Mountains. The north winds that have been pushing smoke from the Swan Lake Fire into Cooper Landing will likely shift to coming from the southwest later this week, which will provide some relief from the heavy smoke conditions in the area. Fire personnel will be watching for lightning and erratic winds into the weekend that could exacerbate the fire. The chance for significant rainfall remains low, but rising humidity and falling temperatures are expected to make fine fuels like grasses and twigs harder to burn.

A community meeting regarding the Swan Lake Fire was held Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Cooper Landing Elementary School. It was the fourth public meeting scheduled by the fire’s incident management team and the second to take place in Cooper Landing.

For real-time air quality updates, visit http://tools.airfire.org and click on the “Monitoring PM2.5” tab to find readings. For smoke forecasts for all Alaska wildfires, visit UAFSMOKE at http://smoke.alaska.edu.

Motorists should be aware of potential delays along the Sterling Highway due to construction, smoke conditions, and activity from fire personnel. For current road conditions, visit http://511.alaska.gov. A temporary flight restriction is in effect over the area, and pilots can confirm current restrictions at http://tfr.faa.gov.

Some facilities in the Skilak Lake recreation area remain closed. For the latest information on closures in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, call the Refuge Visitor Center at 907-260-2820 or visit http://kenai.fws.gov. The Resurrection Pass Trail in the Chugach National Forest has also been partially closed. For the latest information on Chugach closures and restrictions visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/news/chugach/news-events.

The latest information on the Swan Lake Fire, visit kpboem.com or call the incident management team at 208-391-3488.

Reach Brian Mazurek at bmazurek@peninsulaclarion.com.