With low threats to property, East Fork Fire allowed to burn

Jun 16, 2017

Smoke rises from the East Fork Fire near Swan Lake in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Credit Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Fire crews are still at work on the East Fork Fire, burning in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Sterling. It started as a result of lightning in the area Thursday evening. The fire isn't posing immediate threats to life or property and will be monitored closely as it moves deeper into the refuge.

Size estimates remain around 200 acres for the East Fork Fire. That number will almost certainly grow over the weekend, as the strategy at this point is to let the fire burn through the black spruce in that area. Refuge Fire Management Officer Kristi Bulock says fuel breaks put in along the boundary of the refuge last winter gave an added layer of protection for nearby residents and bought a little time.

"With that fire break in place, now we have virtually three lines of defense between where the fire is currently located and the community of Sterling. Before that fuel break was in place, we only had two. It just provides that much more safety for on-the-ground resources that are taking action and a little more decision space."

The fire is burning in a limited protection area about 3 miles away from the nearest road. Approximately 20 people are on the ground monitoring the fire and helping push it farther into the refuge. More air support will be in place over the weekend, dropping water where needed. Bulock says that as this is a naturally occurring fire, and as the threat to life or property is relatively low, it will be allowed to simply do its thing. That lessens the risk to firefighters on the ground and can provide a lot of habitat benefits.

"But if there's nothing threatened and the fire on the landscape is doing good for the landscape, certainly we don't want to put lives at risk."

As the fire moves east into the refuge, there could be some limits on recreational access around Skilak Lake, as that will serve as a main source of water for air tankers. There is a temporary flight restriction around the fire and crews are using the Soldotna Airport for refueling and other operations. Smoke from the fire has not been a big problem, and the possibility of rain showers Saturday could keep that in check. Bulock says this is a good time for people to take stock of their properties, as fire season is far from over.

"Homeowners who are adjacent to these fuel breaks and those who have any kind of flammable vegetation in their yard, the best case would be if the homeowner has taken action on their land and done fire-wise clearing, that works really well in conjunction with anything that the agencies that come together to produce these fuel breaks, they all work hand in hand for the best possible result, plus it improves your view and you have a better chance of animals coming into your yard and you can actually see them."