Mile 17 fire grows to 700 acres

Mile 17 fire grows to 700 acres

15 May 2009

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The Mile 17 East End Road fire flared up to over 1,200 acres Wednesday afternoon, with a perimeter spreading east to Voznesenka village, north to Basargin Road and south to Kachemak Bay. No one has been reported injured, but there is a report that at least one structure was destroyed. Many areas within that perimeter have not been burned, however.

“We had a blow out,” Alaska Division of Forestry fire information spokesperson Matt Weaver described the situation that happened on Wednesday.

The fire began about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday just east of Lusky Road about Mile 16.5 East End Road and had spread to 70 acres Tuesday night. The fire had quieted down on Wednesday morning, but erratic winds that afternoon stirred the fire up. Weather conditions have been sunny with temperatures in the 50s and low humidity. No change in the weather is anticipated.

Weaver said firefighters are in “defensive mode,” and have contained only 10 percent of the fire with bulldozer lines.

The fire danger is extremely high, and State Forestry has suspended all open burning, including burning in burn barrels. Weaver asked people to police themselves and their neighbors.

Alaska State Troopers went house-to-house Wednesday in the Russian Old Believer villages of Voznesenka, Razdolna and Kachemak Selo advising people to evacuate. A convoy of evacuees was led out Wednesday afternoon. Shelter was set up at the Homer High School. About 40 people evacuated, according to the Alaska Red Cross.

“Human life is our number one concern,” Weaver said.

The Alaska Division of Forestry called the situation extremely dynamic, and information about the extent of the fire and how many homes have been destroyed is unknown. KBBI 890 am radio is broadcasting periodic updates.

Weaver said State Forestry firefighters are focusing on protecting the lives of citizens and firefighters, protecting homes and infrastructure, and keeping the fire south of East End Road and keeping the road open. The narrow, winding sections of East End Road past Mile 16 are extremely dangerous, particularly with smoke covering the road.

“We want to keep people off that road,” Weaver said.

A checkpoint has been set up just past McNeil Canyon School. The road is closed to everyone but emergency vehicles past Mile 16.

Troopers have been able to get into Voznesenka, Weaver said.

About 125 firefighters and other staff are working the fire, including four helicopters, five bulldozers and nine engines. Two crews were enroute on Thursday. Two strike teams from Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough arrived Thursday.

A Type 1 Incident Management Team will take over command at 4 p.m. Thursday.

“It’s the highest level of commitment the state can offer,” Weaver said.

Firefighters will work to save as many homes as possible, and will make decisions on what to save based on accessibility and defensibility of homes

“We’re still in a very defensive mode,” Weaver said. “That means a quick triage.”

Homes with good defensible space will get first priority, he said. Homeowners can help by running sprinklers and wetting down brush around their houses.

Not everyone in the villages has evacuated. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management is making contingency plans to evacuate people by the beach or other means if necessary. At low tide, the beach can be driven by four-wheel drive trucks or all-terrain vehicles.

State Forestry urged people in the villages to stay calm, but also to make evacuation plans. That means gathering food, water and supplies. Villagers also should identify areas to retreat from the fire if it flares up, such as gravel pits, beaches or mowed hay fields.

As of Thursday afternoon, no one had checked in at the high school, said Frank Keener of the Alaska Red Cross. They anticipate some families will arrive Thursday evening, he said. People needing Red Cross assistance can visit the shelter at the high school.

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