Alaska’s Wildfires: Funny River Fire Alone Now Covers Over 45,000 Acres

Update: Thursday morning, the Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team announced that the Funny River fire is now 46 percent contained thanks to light and moderate rainfall in the region. Fire fighters are now working on battling the fire rather than just defending against it. Most of the evacuation has been called off and residents have been allowed home though the lower Skilak lake campground remains evacuated. The blaze has now engulfed 192,831 acres. Fire officials now know that the fire was not caused by an abandoned campfire. Investigators have determined that the Funny River fire started around 4pm on Monday, May 19 along Woodcut Road near mile 6.5 of Funny River Road. They are asking that anyone with information about how the fire started or about vehicles in the area at that time contact Alaska State Troopers at 907-262-4453. Anonymous tips are acceptable.

Update: The Funny River fire which started in Alaska’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge has claimed 182,000 acres, as of latest official reports. Social media reports indicate the acreage to slightly be higher as of Wednesday. Over 600 personnel have been strategically working to keep homes from burning and to contain the wildfire. Brad Nelson of the Central Emergency Services updated residents that 5 structures have been lost thanks to dedicated efforts. The early estimations set the cost of battling the fire at 3.8 million dollars as of Tuesday. Radio Kenai reported that of the five structure that were lost, there were four cabins and an outbuilding, “One private cabin, two belonging to the Nature Conservancy, and one belonging to DNR.”

Nelson also explained that yesterday’s rain would not put out the fire, but the humidity and wetness was helpful in calming the fire which made fire containment efforts more manageable and allowed fire fighters to actively work at actually fighting the fire itself. Tuesday, the crew was able to make good progress. Wednesday’s rain were more significant and Nelson updated his community, “Now THIS is the kind of rain we need!”

The community continues to work together to address the needs of everyone involved. Nelson pointed out that many contributors deserve praise including, “Computer techs, communications, cooks, 911 dispatchers, supply, drivers, janitors, the list goes on. There are also community members who volunteered to man the 24 hour hotline, ensuring people got information anytime of the day or night.” One woman, Cindy Barnes, has been praised on the Central Emergency Services social media platform. While Barnes’ house was in danger from the Funny River fire, instead of packing her belongings to spare them from potential loss, she woke at at 3 am every day to make sure that firefighters have a warm meal by 6 am.

During the day, the sunlight is filtered from the smoke, creating an eerie haze even from a distance. Resident Nancy Bergevin told Inquisitr, ” Heavy smoke today…its like looking through a yellow tinted lens right now under the cloud of smoke. It almost hurts the eyes when we get on the road and its bright blue sunny skies!” Alaskans were told at a community meeting that the blaze was so large and powerful, some smoke will remain through the remainder of the summer.

A photo by Rob Allen, working on the Funny River fire, shows the value of efforts to protect homes:

Update: Brad Nelson of the Central Emergency Services working to contain the fire in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula updated the residents of the evacuated area he was working on in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, last night, “No homes lost,” and the response was enormous relief. While some rumors circulate of at least one home and several buildings lost to the flames of the Funny River fire, firefighters worked through the night to protect the homes and subdivision threatened by the flames and were very successful, considering the blaze has exceeded the size of Chicago and was so close to homes, residents reported hearing the roar of the fire.

Rain finally made its way through Alaska last night and the precipitation is expected to increase significantly towards the end of the week. Inquisitr reports that Alaskans maintain a sense of community togetherness as they wait for the blaze to be contained.

Update: Rain is still expected to roll through Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula region tonight to help firefighters attack the blaze that has evacuated over 1000 structures. Tonight’s rain will continue through Wednesday, with steadier rains expected at the end of the week. As Memorial Day Weekend comes to a close, the Anchorage Daily News reports that one area of the Funny River fire evacuation is clear for residents and tourists to return, but that firefighters are still battling a significant blaze north of Kenai River. While some evacuated families are being allowed home, people are urged to be very cautious of weakened trees that could topple over as the wind from the front bringing rain comes in. This wind poses the greatest threat to firefighters still on the scenes of the fires.

As of Monday morning, the Funny River fire is just over 30 percent contained, Alaska Dispatch reports. Firefighters assigned to the Funny River fire spent Memorial Day defending the Sterling Highway corridor, parts of Kasilof, and buildings along Funny River Road and subdivision.

After the Funny River fire grew to exceed the size of Seattle, the nation finally started to take notice when major media outlets finally began reporting on the Alaskan wildfires. Locals were getting fire information from local news, neighbors and firefighters. The Funny River fire scorched 156,000 acres by Sunday night, after growing for several days.

The Funny River fire, as reported earlier, is not the only blaze Alaska is dealing with. Tyonek and Beluga fire is the next largest Alaskan wildfire, which also started a week ago. That fire is still burning. The Tyonek and Beluga fire in Alaska has now burned over 1,900 acres, but is finally about 70 percent contained. That fire is expected to be fully contained by Wednesday. A meeting for the townspeople of Tyonek and Beluga started at 7:30 Monday evening. As of Monday, 260 personnel are still assigned to the Tyonek fire as well an one helicopter.

Update: Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula region should be getting some help from the heavens against the blazing inferno that has now engulfed more than 193 square miles as of Sunday. According to the National Weather Service, though no rainfall was previously expected until the end of the week, Memorial Day unexpectedly will see widespread rainfall. The frontal system will pass over the peninsula where the Funny River fire has been burning vast acreage of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and came frighteningly close to residences. The rainfall, much to the relief of the over 400 firefighters and the people of the area, is expected to last through midweek. Though Memorial Day is generally one of those days people hope for sunshine, some social media users have already been calling the unexpected precipitation a blessing from the angels. As of Sunday, the fire is 20 percent contained.

The Funny River Road area is under an evacuation order as of midday Sunday. Everyone from Milepost 7 and east who lives on the side of the road where the fire is burning is ordered to evacuate. The latest report shows the Funny River fire has spread to encompass 123,649 acres.

The Beluga and Tyonek fire has not grown significantly since Saturday, according to KTUU News. This fire has a boundary estimate of 1,906 acres. Five structures have been lost including two outbuildings and three storage units. No evacuations are reported for this smaller fire yet.

Update: The Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team announced that Funny River fire had engulfed 110,648 acres as of 7pm May 24, 2014 with 20% containment. A new video of the fire approaching a containment line is making its way around the internet:

Funny River wildfire is now the second-largest in Alaska’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge ‘s 72-year history. Saturday, the Alaska Army National Guard flew two Black Hawks with water buckets into the area to join five other helicopters and four Canadian air tankers.

Update: The Funny River fire in Alaska’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge has now engulfed at least 96,584 acres as of Saturday. An evacuation advisory has been issued. Residents have been told to prepare for an evacuation, according to KSRM 920 AM. The evacuation order that was issued for about 50 homes late Friday night was lifted after midnight on Saturday. 400 to 500 firefighters are expected to battle the inferno in Alaska this weekend.

Update: Peninsula Clarion News in Alaska reported that the Funny River fire has now grown to engulf 63,425 acres as of late Thursday night. More than 170 emergency fire workers are on the ground battling the blaze.

A thick, smokey haze hangs over much of Alaska as 45,000 acres of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is engulfed in flames from a raging wildfire. Meanwhile, Alaska battles other forest fires as well. An estimated 1,800 acres are engulfed in flames in Beluga and Tyonek. Some of the Alaskan flames are just miles from residential areas and a major fire approaches an Alaskan pipeline.

As of early Thursday, the Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team announced that the Funny River Fire has consumed 44,423 acres within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and was only five percent contained. Firefighters have made progress corralling the northwest edge of the fire by “creating a dozer line.” Water scooping aircraft was sent to Alaska from Alberta, Canada Thursday to attempt to contain the southwest edge of the forest fire. According to KTUU News, over 150 firefighters works through the night Wednesday night.

A Kasilof Community Meeting was held by the Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team. As of Thursday night, the team updated the public, “The CL215 water scoopers are starting operations on the south west flank of the fire. They will be dipping water out of Skilak and Tustumena Lakes. The fire spread is being slowed when the fire encounters riparian areas. A task force of engines is on its way from Delta, Fairbanks and the Mat-Su Borough.”

Brad Nelson, spokesperson for Central Emergency Services, told KTUU News, “We’re finally able to work on this fire on different fronts, to really start gaining ground.”

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A flight restriction has been enforced in the Funny River region temporarily while extra fire fighting aircraft battle the enormous blaze and smoke makes visitation difficult. Billows of smoke engulf the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral Alaska and officials have imposed Air Quality Advisories to area residents.

Homer Electric Association, Inc. is currently monitoring the Funny River Fire in Alaska. The company reported:

“As of Wednesday evening the fire has not impacted any HEA structures and there has been no disruption in service to HEA members. The primary concern at this time is two high voltage transmission lines that are located between Kasilof and Soldotna, just west of the fire and east of the Sterling Highway.”

Last month, a fire near residential areas in Chile proved fatal and evacuated 10,000 residents after spanning less than 700 acres, The Inquisitr reported. NBC News reported that Alaskan residents near the blazes pray the firefighters contain the inferno and that the flames don’t skip the river or in any way move closer towards residential areas.

Alaska had very little snow this past winter which caused very dry vegetation this spring. The cause of the Funny River Fire in Alaska is under investigation, but the lack of moisture in the Alaskan vegetation and timber have created an especially dangerous condition for the spread of wildfires.

[Photos By Bill Roth/ Alaska Dispatch]

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