Firefighting crews make progress at Kenai Lake as winds die down

Posted: Friday, June 29, 2001

ANCHORAGE - Firefighters battling the Kenai Lake fire got help from the weather overnight as gusty winds subsided.

Crews were making progress building lines around the blaze, and the 2,700-acre fire was 30 percent contained by mid-morning today. It was expected to be fully contained by Sunday, said Susan Rutherford, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.

More than 230 firefighters were working on the blaze, which had consumed about 2,700 acres.

The blaze began as a prescribed burn, but was declared a wildfire late Monday after gusty winds blew embers across control lines.

The prescribed burn drew the ire of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, who wrote to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to ask who authorized the June 15 fire. Stevens also wanted to know why a 20-member hotshot crew was released Monday before all the embers were out. That night, winds fanned the embers into flames, turning the controlled blaze into a wildfire that Stevens said could cause millions of dollars in damage.

Stevens was especially critical of Forest Service officials who told the Anchorage Daily News that they saw nothing done wrong, that conditions seemed perfect for torching the area thick with flammable beetle-killed spruce.

"I don't accept these answers since it has been clear since at least 1998 that the Kenai Peninsula was a fire danger because of the beetle kill," Stevens wrote. In his letter, Stevens said the fire was threatening at least 60 homes in the peninsula.

Rutherford said the official count was 15 homes and four other structures. She said the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center released the hotshot crew from the Kenai Lake burn because weather conditions seemed good and the crew was needed at the much larger Fish Creek wildfire in the Tanana Flats southwest of Fairbanks.

As of this morning, there were 24 wildfires burning around the state. Five were being actively fought while the others were being monitored.

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