Thursday, May 14, 2009

Homer, Alaska Wildfire Up To 1,200 Acres, Two Homes Burned, 10 Percent Contained, 200 Firefighters On The Scene

Update May 16th: Fire now 50 percent contained, three homes burned, evacuation order lifted. Updated post HERE.

Update May 15th 5:30 P.M: Wildfire not yet officially contained, but now under control. Area of fire now shrunk to 1,075 acres. No additional homes have been reported burned. Updated stories from the Anchorage Daily News and the Homer News.

During the past 24 hours, the Homer, Alaska wildfire did grow to 1,200 acres, and two homes are now confirmed to be burned, along with a few scattered outbuildings. Two hundred firefighters are now on hand to combat the blaze. However, there is some good news; westerly winds off Kachemak Bay and the Cook Inlet have boosted humidities to the 55 percent range, and so there are fewer flames and more smouldering, and the fire has stopped spreading for now. But it is only 10 percent contained at present, and it will be days before the fire is contained. The most current story is posted by the Anchorage Daily News; separate reports from KTUU Channel 2 and from the Homer News at 1:15 P.M. and 5:45 P.M. add more details.

KTUU news video directly accessible HERE.

View ADN's collection of photos HERE.

As shown in this ADN graphic, the area of the fire begins at around Mile 16 of the East End Road just east of Homer. Immediately to the east of the fire area are three villages inhabited primarily by a grand total of 450 Russian Orthodox Old Believers. Voznesenka, the closest village to the fire, has 150 residents. To the east lies Razdolna, and to the southeast is Kachemak Selo. Although residents of all three villages were given evacuation orders on Wednesday May 13th, many residents have chosen to stay behind, even though a lack of electrical power will prevent them from accessing their wells to fight the fire individually.

The Voznesenka School has been opened up as a shelter for those east of the fire, while the Alaska Red Cross set up a shelter at Homer High School overnight on Wednesday for those trapped west of the fire. Some refugees have also checked into various Homer hotels.

On hand to fight the fire are 200 firefighters, including 24 smokejumpers. This includes the four additional hand crews which arrived Thursday to bring the total to three Type I and four Type II crews, which focus on hand-digging fire lines. Assisting them are helicopters dumping buckets of water and tankers dropping retardant. Rough terrain and few roads hinder the firefighters' efforts.

The fire first started along power lines around 5:30 P.M. on Tuesday, and there's an unconfirmed report that a tree had fallen on a line, knocking it down. But the Homer Electric Association (HEA) has not yet confirmed this to be the cause, which is still under investigation. As a precaution, HEA cut off power to the line. Although the line has since been repaired, HEA will not restore power until Forestry assures them that there is no further fire danger to their lines. However, 290 customers beyond Mile 17 of East End Road still remain without power, and their wells and cisterns are power-dependent.

The current firefighting strategy is to keep the fire penned up south of East End Road as much as possible. To the north is Kachemak Bay State Park, and it is loaded with dead spruce trees which were killed by spruce bark beetles years ago. This would be rocket fuel for a wildfire, regardless of humidity. Weather is expected to remain fair and dry for the next three days.

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