22 Mar Swan Lake Fire
After a very mild winter and another hot and dry spring here on the Kenai Peninsula, we experienced a very large fire that began in early June and continued well in August and early September. The fire began on June 5, 2019 and was caused by lightning in a remote area of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Initially, it was allowed to burn on its own, consuming thousands of acres of mature black spruce aided by a large percentage of already dead trees affected by spruce bark beetles. By June 19, the fire had spread to 15,600 acres and caused temporary highway closure due to shifting winds and heavy smoke affecting visibility. Toward the end of June, the fire perimeter grew from 32,000 acres to 62,000 acres aided mostly by unseasonable hot and dry weather conditions. Here in Kenai/Soldotna and the majority of the southern Kenai Peninsula we remained unaffected, but wind direction did cause dense smoke to permeate the Cooper Landing and Seward areas. By July 15, the fire had reached over 100,000 acres and was staffed by over 400 firefighting personnel. Much needed rain in Late July helped containment efforts and greatly reduced fire activity, prompting reduction in staffing and control efforts. Unfortunately, unseasonably warm and dry conditions returned in August and rekindled hot spots within the perimeter of the fire. On Aug 17, an extreme wind event with wind speeds exceeding 35 mph re-ignited previously controlled areas of the fire and pushed it rapidly south across the Sterling Highway and into the Skilak Lake Wildlife Recreation Area. It grew by more than 50,000 acres in a matter of days and had significant impacts on travel along the Sterling highway and nearby communities of Cooper Landing, Sterling and Soldotna. Reports of flames overlapping the highway and literally through cars traveling both north and south prompted several days of on and off highway closures. Fortunately, forestry officials were able to back burn critical areas along the travel corridor and soon eliminated most of the fuel supply along the affected areas adjacent to the Sterling Highway and along critical power line routes. By mid to late September, the now 167,164-acre fire was largely contained and no longer poised a significant threat to human activities or structures on the Kenai Peninsula. The event was a sobering reminder of mother natures power and its cyclical way of using fire to manage forests. Overall, thanks largely to the tireless help of firefighting personnel from across the country, the fire had a minimal effect on life and property. It helped to eliminate old fuels within the forest and will undoubtedly create renewed habitat for the many mammals that call the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge home, especially moose, which will thrive on new growth such as willow, alder and birch.
Many of you will remember the 200,000-acre Funny River fire in 2014 which burned dangerously close to the towns of both Sterling and Soldotna and along extensive sections of the Kenai River below Skilak Lake. We were honored to contribute to the firefighting efforts during this fire by supplying jet boat transportation to firefighters along the river corridor. Once again, we were called to action during the Swan Lake fire and our guide Jens Hansen spent nearly two full weeks transporting fire fighters with our jet boat on the Upper Kenai near Cooper Landing. Despite long grueling hours and heavy smoke, Jens performed like a true professional and had what he described as a lifetime experience on the front lines of a major forest fire. A huge thanks to Jens for his dedication to this important effort and for his willingness to put his fishing season on hold to assist. We are very proud as a company to lend our assistance to both local and national firefighting agencies as without their expertise and management, these wildfire events could have caused very detrimental consequences to our local communities and economies.