KDLL needs an original theme song for its new “Drinking on the Last Frontier” show with Bill Howell. Songs should be written and performed by you, be up-tempo and celebrate local beer culture — but not drinking to excess. We’ll play the submissions on air, and the winner will be credited in every show. Email mp3 files by April 21 to email@example.com. For more information, call 283-8433.
While the loss of four homes is nothing to be celebrated, residents and emergency responders to natural gas-fueled explosions on Lilac Lane in Kenai following the earthquake early Sunday morning are calling the situation miraculous, since no one was hurt and everyone got out alive.
Tucker: “The second house, when it exploded, it blew off its foundation, it blew its garage door across the street and then caught the home on fire.”
That’s Kenai Fire Chief Jeff Tucker.
Tucker: “We were lucky there was nobody in that area at the time of the explosion.”
Residents along Lilac Lane, Cook Inlet View Drive and Wells Way were evacuated early Sunday while emergency responders and utility companies worked around the clock to secure the area.
Misty Schoendaller lives at 1215 Lilac. She was drifting off to sleep when the earthquake hit at 1:30 a.m. She got dressed, grabbed her cellphone and headed outside.
Schoendaller: “About the time I got out the door the house next to mine exploded and knocked me back. And when the explosion happened it was really weird because it was like coming out from the kitchen area, and the front of the house kind of came out and then went back in, and black smoke everywhere. I mean, it was bad.”
Kenai Police arrived within minutes.
Schoendaller: “There were things on fire outside of the house on the ground and the Kenai Police were trying to extinguish it with extinguishers, and it just kept coming back.”
By 3 a.m., Kenai fire and police noticed a strong smell of gas in the area and told residents they had to evacuate.
Chief Tucker said the fire department found 1213 Lilac on fire following the explosion. They turned off the natural gas to the home and requested that Enstar respond to shut off gas to the area. Firefighters got the blaze under control, but after the evacuations were complete, around 3:30 a.m., Schoendaller’s house exploded.
Tucker: “That explosion also then caught the other homes on fire, so it was just a tragic series of events.”
The fires were put out but the houses were destroyed. The priority became stopping further gas leaks in the area.
Tucker: “In this case, with the lines being potentially ruptured and other things, that’s where Enstar is going out and they’re actually digging through the ground and getting to the actual line itself and crimping the line in the ground.”
By Monday morning, residents were allowed back into the area. Schoendaller’s house was now a cement hole in the ground, with jumbled, charred piles of debris strewn across her lawn. The house to her left, that had initially exploded, was in a similar state, with tendrils of smoke rising from smoldering ashes. The two homes on either side were standing, but barely, blackened and sagging in the aftermath of flames, heat and water.
Debris stuck in trees surrounding the area, and someone had hauled Schoendaller’s twisted, metal garage door back to her property. It was nothing at all like the house she’d left the night before.
Schoendaller: “The front part of it was cedar wood partial ways up and then it was blue and cream sides, but on the wood parts my dad cut out and painted — he’s an artist — some wooden bears and wooden moose that were on the front. And we saved the bears. Not so much the moose, but the bears were saved.”
The loss stings like the smell of charred metal and plastic, but not so badly in the larger scheme of things. Schoendaller unfortunately learned a larger context for loss when her husband died last year.
Schoendaller: “Because everybody said, ‘Well, aren’t you upset?’ Well, of course I’m upset, but if I can make it through losing my husband, this is going to be child’s play. Everybody got out alive. None of the kids and adults who live here got hurt. We all got out and we’re alive, so I’ll take that any day.”
After all, it could have been so much worse.
Tucker: “The folks in the Lilac Lane area were very cooperative and got out. We were very lucky that nobody was hurt or injured. But the potential was there to do that, and we’re real thankful that everybody cooperated.”
Enstar and Homer Electric Association had gas and power restored to most homes Sunday night, and worked Monday to finish restoring service to the rest of the area.
More firefighters are finding their way to the Kenai Peninsula where three wild land fires are now burning; the Card Street Fire near Sterling and the Stetson and Juneau Creek Fires near Cooper Landing.
The good news on the Card Street Fire is that it’s finally beginning to move away from residential areas on the banks of the Kenai River. Easterly winds are pushing the fire into the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Skilak Lake. Division of Forestry spokesperson Terry Anderson says favorable winds, a lot of water and good preparation by property owners kept the damage limited to one structure Tuesday night.
“The fire made a major run to the west…It jumped Kenai Keys and came into the subdivision with lots of sparks and embers and trees torching, and it was a battle for a good solid three hours or so. It was supported by air tankers dropping loads of retardants right next to houses trying to support the firefighters. A lot of success.”
The Card Street Fire is now at 3,000 acres. At least 300 people have been evacuated. Campgrounds near Skilak Lake have also been cleared out. Anderson says the Type-2 management team will arrive Monday with extra administrative and ground support.
“There’s a lot of tired firefighters out there right now, so to be supplemented by a management team or more fire crews is what we all need right now. We have about 125 new firefighters hit the ground today. More have been ordered and I expect to see more coming.”
About 20 miles east down the Sterling Highway, two fires were sparked by lightning near Cooper Landing. Mona Spargo is the public information officer with Chugach National Forest.
“Stetson Creek was originally south of the Sterling Highway between Russian River and Cooper Creek. It was originally this morning 750-1,000 acres estimated. Since our briefing this afternoon, it has been taken down to 250-300 acres.”
The Juneau Lake fire was also a result of lightning strikes. It’s east of Juneau Lake and north of Cooper Landing, just off the Ressurection Pass trail. The cabins on the trail have been evacuated.
“So that one has an incident command team and a fuels crew on it, and there have been about 20 people from the district providing support and monitoring, letting people know what’s going on.”
The forecast for the Peninsula calls for more hot, dry, windy weather, and officals expect these fires to continue through the week.
The snow has melted, birds are returning, leaves are budding on trees and sunlight has passed the 15-hour mark. Summer is approaching, and with it, road construction season.
The first major project of the season is already underway — finishing work on the Binkley Street and Corral intersection in front of the library in Soldotna. That began about two weeks ago and is a continuation of a project last season to upgrade the road and install three roundabouts on Binkley. The contractor, Peninsula Construction, ran out of time to finish the lift station needed at the intersection before winter set in.
Frey: “We had additional work that arose during the contract, finding broken sewer mains underground and utility repairs underground. A lot of it was just once you start tearing up the asphalt and concrete and start digging to repair some things, insulate some water and sewer lines that were having freezing issues, you kind of find some different issues once you’re down there underground. So it took a little while longer than we expected to do part of the project, and doing some additional repairs — curb and drainage issues and, things like that.”
That’s Lee Frey, project manager with the city of Soldotna. He said the crew just finished getting manholes in the ground and are doing utility lines and electrical work now. Once that’s done, it’s on to pavement, curbs and sidewalks. Frey estimates the intersection will be open by the end of May.
Following that, workers will move on to paving, adding sidewalks and street lights to North Aspen Street between Marydale and Corral. Peninsula Construction also got the bid for that project. Work should begin around June 1 and wrap up in three months, Frey said.
There also will be a sidewalk built on Riverside between Kobuk and the Sterling Highway, and at least one sidewalk, maybe two, and street lights on West Redoubt past the cemetery.
And on Monday, a crew will begin tearing the roof of the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in preparation of being replaced.
Also in Soldotna, though on the Department of Transportation and Public Facility’s to-do list, is installation of a traffic light and turn pockets at Birch Street. Improving traffic in and out of Soldotna Creek Park is part of the purpose for the project. Work is scheduled to begin Friday and wrap up by October. So far, no road closures have been planned, according to DOT spokesperson Shannon McCarthy. But there will be traffic control measures, and possibly some lane closures at night. If there’s more impact than that, DOT will send out notification, McCarthy said.
Farther down the road, QAP will be rehabbing Milepost 135 to 150 of the Sterling Highway from the Ninilchik River Bridge south to Tall Tree Avenue. That will involve repaving the road and, as necessary, new curb ramps, guardrails, delineators signage and striping. It’s similar to the work done farther up the Sterling last year, between Soldotna and Kasilof. Work is scheduled between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and is expected to finish up by mid-September.
McCarthy: “It can give or take by a couple weeks and of course weather is always a component of completing the work, but they give a pretty good estimate there.”
McCarthy notes that this will be a significantly road busy construction season, with over $330 million in infrastructure investment work to be done on major Southcentral roads alone. She advises pretty much anyone traveling anywhere this summer to check the status of road constructions projects before they hit the road to find out about potential delays or detours. Visit either www.511.alaska.gov, which shows updates by maintenance and construction crews. Or www.alaskanavigator.org for more information about construction projects.
McCarthy: “Well, we do have a lot of work going on all across Southcentral, so patience of course, and then checking alaskanavigator before you head out, or 511.”
The politics may not be sorted out, but the science is. Climate change, global warming, call it what you want, it’s here. Things are different now than they were, and they’ll likely continue in that direction for some time. Dr. Jeremey Littell (lit-TELL) of the Alaska Climate Science Center presented a little more details about overall warming trends and what we can expect here on the Kenai in the coming decades.