Wildfires in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula have spread and are currently covering 193 square miles. So far firefighters have only been able to contain 20 percent of the Funny River Fire at Soldotna, which is the most active. The fire, which is named after a local road, has continued to move through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Firefighters from multiple states including Oregon and Montana, as well as Canada, have flown to Alaska to aid existing crews. They have been working to put out the fires by air with seven helicopters, two of which belong to Alaska’s Air National Guard. The combination of dry weather conditions and high winds is causing the fires to spread more rapidly, which poses a challenge for firefighters. According to Alaska’s Interagency Management Team, the fire was larger than the city of Seattle which is 143 square miles.
Bernie Pineda, fire spokesperson, says fire crews have been working together to build a strong border around the northern and western areas of the Funny River Fire in order to contain it. He stated that they were successful in building lines on Saturday and expect to have the western line completed over the next few days. Although the fire spread over 40 square miles on Saturday, no buildings have been damaged and there have been no reports of death or injuries.
Residents of Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, have been notified of the large amount of rising smoke they should expect to see in surrounding areas of the city. Spokeswoman for Alaska’s Interagency Management Team, Michelle Weston, stated that spot fires had jumped over the Kenai River moving close to the community of Sterling, and an evacuation has been planned for the town’s residents. Alaska State Troopers have been going to nearby homes and assisting in the evacuation. The growth of the fires has resulted in the mandatory evacuation of over 1,000 buildings. The displaced residents have been directed to shelters and some have had to move their pets to the rodeo grounds for safety. The Red Cross has also set two up shelters for the evacuees. Most are staying with relatives or friends and others have been staying in their RV’s and campers in the Soldotna Sports Center.
Although the fire has caused residents hardship, it has also brought the community together in helping take care of one another during this difficult time. In Soldotna, Hooligans Sport Fishing Lodge has offered free shelter for residents and pets who have been displaced from their homes.
The weather forecast shows a chance of rain on Tuesday, which would provide a measure of relief for firefighters. Over 150 homes are in danger and authorities have warned residents that they should prepare to leave. If the expected rainfall on Tuesday does occur, however, there may be no need for an evacuation order.
The Funny River Fire is reported to have been “human-caused” and was sparked on May 19 in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge which is over one-million acres in size. The size of the current fires are not unusual for Alaska, as a million acres are burned on average each fire season. They typically do not occur, however, until later in the summer.
By: Sarah Temori