The fire started just before 4 p.m. Monday in the Jim Howard Road area near Nikolaevsk. Anchor Point Assistant Fire Chief Doug Loshbough says the wildfire grew to about five acres before it was contained.
“It started in high grass, it appeared, and quickly ran into the woods,” says Loshbough. “And as it was going through the woods, it burned a lot of the brush on the ground and occasionally torched a tree. It was an area where it was mixed high grass and spruce trees, so there was a lot of fire going through the grass and a little bit going through the understory of the forest and occasional trees torching.”
Crews, tankers, and support vehicles responded from nearby stations in Nikolaevsk and Anchor Point. They were aided by Kachemak Emergency Services and the Division of Forestry, which brought in an air tanker, helicopter, and spotter plane.
“And because there are houses in the area, it was a pretty significant fire,” says Loshbough. “We were worried about containing it before it was able to reach a house.”
There have been no reports of structural damage or injuries. But the fire was substantial enough to warrant support from the Mat-Su.
Division of Forestry spokesperson Tim Mowry says the Gannett Glacier Type 11 Initial Attack Crew from Palmer came to provide relief and help clear hotspots.
“They’ve gone through a thousand gallons of water I think on one pile that was specifically sort of a problem area,” says Mowry. “They’re just starting the gridding process now, which is where they’re going to walk the entire fire, feeling and checking for hotspots, with their bare hands, making sure there are no hotspots left that are going to reignite.”
Mowry says the dry, warm conditions on the Kenai this winter and spring have allowed a lot of dead brush to build up, which is easy fuel for a hot and quickly-spreading fire.
“That fire spread into some hardwood, spruce and birch that were starting to burn, and when hardwoods are burning, that’s a sign that it’s really dry,” says Mowry.
This week has seen overcast skies with light rain on the southern peninsula. Loshbough says the conditions helped keep the fire from getting too big too fast. He says this time, crews got lucky.
“People should be aware that tall grass right now, if the sun comes out for a few hours, it can dry out really quickly and it’s pretty easy to get a spark in there and set it going and fire moves pretty quickly through tall grass. Once it’s off and running, it’s hard to slow down,” says Loshbough.
The fire is currently under investigation. The Division of Forestry says an unattended burn pile was responsible. A fire prevention officer is on scene and will be contacting the residence to find out more information.
They remind all residents to practice fire safety, clear dry brush around houses and on private property, and always take precautions before burning.