Traffic flow remains intermittent as Swan Lake Fire grows

The Swan Lake fire has grown to 40,000 acres as firefighters work to contain the blaze. (Image courtesy of Alaska Incident Management Team)

The 40,000-acre Swan Lake Fire, burning northeast of Sterling, is ending its third week, now with over 500 firefighters responding. According to the Alaska Incident Management Team, crews are now working the fire 24 hours a day to keep the fire from Homer Electric Co-op’s high-tension power lines from the Bradley Lake hydropower plant and above ground natural gas infrastructure.

Alaska Department of Transportation is managing traffic flow around the worst areas north of Skilak Lake. DOT spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy said DOT is leading traffic through the fire zone with pilot cars, because much of the southbound lane is being used by firefighting equipment, but sometimes, especially in the early morning hours, no traffic can get through due to zero visibility.

“Because the smoke was really thick this morning, we did have to suspend pilot car operations from about 5:30 this morning to just a few minutes before 9 a.m.,” McCarthy said. “And we’re getting through about 80 cars at a time. We can’t go any larger than that because we really do need the cars to be able to see each other and to stay in their lane and not wander, so any anything longer and people do get a little distracted.”

McCarthy says it’s fortuitous that road crews are available to help, but it’s taking them away from the extensive road work being done in the area between mileposts 58 and 75.5.

“I think it’s both a benefit and kind of a detriment that this is happening in an active construction zone. And the good thing is that we do have the resources on the ground to assist. So we’ve got our construction staff, we’ve got a contractor that are there that are helping, you know, assisting with traffic control. And then we also of course, have our maintenance folks,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of resources that are available in that area, which is great. But of course there are folks have not been able to really concentrate on completing the construction that they are rapidly finishing.”

Fire response managers will be meeting again with residents at 6 p.m. this evening at the Sterling Community Center. It will also be cast live on Facebook on the Alaska Division of Forestry’s web page.