Kenai Peninsula fire grows; more hot, dry weather expected
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A wildfire on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula is still growing, delaying tourists and sending smoke into the state’s largest city as it consumed black spruce in an area that last burned 72 years ago.
The fire 5.5 miles (8.85 kilometers) east of Sterling and 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) north of the Sterling Highway on Thursday grew 19% to cover 75 square miles (194 sq. kilometers), managers with the Alaska Incident Management Team said.
Lightning ignited the fire June 5. The last recorded fire in the area was in 1947.
Some of the over 500 people assigned to the fire worked into the early morning hours Thursday to finish a fire break protecting the Sterling Highway and a Homer Electric transmission line from the Bradley Lake Hydroelectric Project to utilities north of the peninsula. On Thursday, they planned additional control burns to expand firebreaks protecting property near Sterling.
The fire is affecting visibility in Anchorage and obscuring views of the Chugach Mountains that line the city’s east side.
Smoke is delaying traffic along a 10-mile (16-kilometer) stretch of the Sterling Highway for people traveling between Anchorage and the cities of Soldotna, Kenai and Homer.
Highway officials have reserved one lane for firefighting vehicles. Pilot cars are guiding motorists in the other lane. Officials have warned drivers to top off gasoline tanks, carry food and pack extra ice if they’re transporting fish because of expected delays. Officials said visibility decreases when afternoon winds blow from the north.
Hot, dry weather was expected to maintain similar conditions into the weekend and was creating hazardous conditions elsewhere.
The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center recorded 11 new wildfires since Wednesday, bringing the state total to 122 active fires. So far 341 wildfires have burned 416 square miles (1077 sq. kilometers) of forest or tundra this year.
The center has 245 people assigned to a lightning fire northwest of Fairbank. The wildfire has burned 2.5 square miles (6.5 sq. kilometers).
The center has nearly 160 people assigned to a wildfire 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Fairbanks and just north of Two Rivers. It has burned 0.5 square miles (1.3 sq. kilometers) but was not growing Thursday.