The Funny River fire on the Kenai Peninsula has topped 67,000 acres.
The combination of Memorial Day weekend and extreme fire conditions have firefighters concerned.
Jim Schwarber, a public information officer with the Alaska Incident Management Team on the Funny River fire, says the fire has been growing gradually in nearly every direction, and is within a few miles of some communities along the Sterling Highway and the Bear Creek subdivision on Tustumena Lake.
“We have folks working on all those areas to work towards securing that line to try to hold the fire back,” he said.
So far, the fire hasn’t caused any structural damage, but Schwarber says as part of the fire creeps west, firefighters are growing more concerned.
“That’s where the larger communities are is on the west side of the fire, and we’re putting a lot of effort into slowing and holding the fire so that it doesn’t cause any damage,” Schwarber said.
There are around 375 personnel working on the Funny River fire, with more crews expected in the coming days.
Schwarber says this fire is burning a lot hotter than fires normally do this early in the season, which makes it particularly dangerous.
“The fire has been burning very active in typical fuels, but it’s also been spreading and burning in mixed hardwoods, which is an area that typically slows a fire,” he said.
Certain fuels, like black spruce, tend to burn more actively later in the summer, but this year it’s happening early.
As the annual influx of campers make their way down to the Peninsula for Memorial Day weekend, Schwarber says they need to be cognizant of the dangers.
“The Kenai is a tinderbox right now, and we need to behave appropriately,” he said.
Red Flag warnings are in effect for the western Kenai Peninsula and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley.
Until further notice, all open fires are prohibited on the Kenai Peninsula. The term “open fires” refers to any flame source not immediately extinguishable or controllable and applies to any form of wood or charcoal-based fire, even in established fire rings. Gas grills, backpacking or camp stoves using fuel or compressed canisters which can be regulated and shut off are still permitted for use.