Update May 14th 10:00 P.M: Fire has grown to 1,200 acres, 200 firefighters now involved, fire only 10 percent contained, two homes burned. Updated post HERE.
A wildfire just east of Homer, Alaska caused by a downed power line grew from about 35 acres on Tuesday May 12th to more than 700 acres (according to ADN, which has the most current story) by Wednesday afternoon. And an official with the Division of Forestry said the blaze, near Mile 17 of East End Road in the Jones Road and Falls Creek Road area, could grow to 1,000 acres overnight and threaten another 30-40 homes. This post combines media stories from KTUU Channel 2, the Anchorage Daily News, and the Homer News (which offers much more detail).
KTUU news video directly accessible HERE.
The fire was already threatening about 20 homes as crews went on the defensive and were trying to extinguish spots where the fire had jumped the road. One resident, Mary Wood, reported the fire creeping to within 20 yards of her home; at that point, a timely airdrop of flame retardant may have saved her property. Smokejumpers and state and local engine companies are facing shifting wind, rugged terrain and a blaze feeding off of plenty of fuel. They are using heavy equipment, including a bulldozer, to protect the nearby subdivision. A total of 100 firefighters are currently involved.
The fire started around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and had died down by evening. But just before 10 p.m. a wind shift caused a flare-up. Alaska State Troopers closed East End Road because of firefighting personnel and equipment there, though they were letting some residents through. Among those allowed access include Moore and Moore Services, which has sent its whole water tanker fleet to the scene, showing that the private sector is getting actively involved.
About half the fire was in Kachemak Bay State Park, according to Alaska State Parks Kenai Superintendent Jack Sinclair. On Wednesday morning, State Forestry said 40 percent of the fire had been contained, mostly on the East End Road side of the fire, with the uncontained end in the park. East End Road residents about 10 years ago had asked State Parks to log the beetle-killed spruce trees in the park, but the decision then was to leave the park in its natural state. Sinclair said State Parks would support building trails in that section of the park.
Evacuation centers for those stranded on either side of the fire have been set up in Voznesenka, a village of Russian Old Believers about 20 miles east of Homer, and at a chapel operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Church at Mile 2.5 East End Road. Although no homes have yet been lost, some officials believe it is not if any homes will be lost, but rather when and how many.
Aircraft are advised to avoid a five-mile radius of the fire, state officials said, as helicopters and other firefighting aircraft are using the airspace.
Spring is wildfire season in Alaska, and South Central Alaska has experienced a sustained run of sunny 60F days with humidities in the 20-30 percent range. With so much dormant growth just waking up, combined with black spruce, this serves as rocket fuel for any wildfire. Several small fires in Mat-Su and Anchorage have already been extinguished this week. Fair and dry conditions are expected to persist in Homer through the end of this week.