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First light rain falls on Kenai Peninsula fire

Posted: May 28, 2014 - 12:04am
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Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion A Black Hawk helicopter dumps water on a portion of the Funny River Wildfire Monday May 26, 2014 in the Funny River community in Soldotna, Alaska. The wildfire has burned more than 156,000 acres and prompted three evacuations on the Kenai Peninsula.   Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion
Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion A Black Hawk helicopter dumps water on a portion of the Funny River Wildfire Monday May 26, 2014 in the Funny River community in Soldotna, Alaska. The wildfire has burned more than 156,000 acres and prompted three evacuations on the Kenai Peninsula.

ANCHORAGE — The first smattering of rain that fell Tuesday on Alaska’s largest wildfire was not enough to extinguish the blaze, but it was a welcome change from 30 mph winds the day before.

The Funny River Fire reached 284 square miles Tuesday, but it was no longer was driven by southwest winds that threatened to push the fire into residential areas on the northeast perimeter.

“Like night and day,” state Division of Forestry spokesman Bernie Pineda said of the changed wind conditions. “It’s not even considered a light breeze anymore.”

Fire officials for the first time reported property damage. The fire consumed an outbuilding and four small cabins along the Kenai River.

“They’re water-accessible cabins only, and they were not occupied,” Pineda said.

Rain started after nightfall, and by morning an estimated three-hundredths to six-hundredths of an inch had fallen. Rain stopped about 1 p.m., Pineda said.

That amount of rain wasn’t enough to soak vegetation beneath the forest canopy, which would take days of a steady downpour, but the higher humidity helps firefighters, he said.

“We’ll take it,” Pineda said.

Rain is also predicted for the next five days, he said.

The 670 people on the fire concentrated most of their efforts in protecting structures threatened on the northeast side of the fire. The strong winds on Memorial Day pushed the fire toward homes south of Funny River Road and property near the Kenai River known as Kenai Keys.

The fire lines were successfully defended, Pineda said. Evacuation orders were canceled Tuesday morning.

The fire jumped the Kenai River near the mouth of the Killey River, but a perimeter was established and firefighters have moved in to extinguish hot spots, Pineda said.

Most of the burned areas are within the 2,968-square-mile Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Firefighters have completed a fire break along the west edge of the fire near Kasilof, and the fire is considered 30 percent contained.

Firefighters have not confirmed how the fire started, but they have said it was caused by people.

Across Cook Inlet to the northwest, the Tyonek Fire was reported to be 70 percent contained and full containment was expected by Wednesday.

The fire named for the nearby remote village also began May 19. It burned nearly 3 square miles and had threatened Tyonek and a natural gas power plant at Beluga.

Firefighters on Tuesday were mopping up hot spots and starting to haul back unused equipment.

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