Lightning Thought to Cause Cooper Landing Fires

Cooper Landing Fires

Download Audio

Update: Wednesday, June 17. 5:45 pm.

Lightning strikes are thought to be the cause of two new fires that started Tuesday near the Kenai Peninsula community of Cooper Landing. Both fires are at zero percent containment and power lines have been shut off near the larger fire.

The first, called the Stetson Creek Fire, was first reported to Alaska State Troopers just after 6:00 pm Tuesday night. It was burning on very steep terrain and erratic winds overnight caused it to grow quickly.

Mona Spargo is a public affairs specialist with the US Forest Service.

“The good news is, it was originally estimated at 750-1000 acres and they’ve been able to look at it a little closer and it’s now 250-300,” she said.

An initial attack crew and Volunteer fire department from Cooper Landing and Moose Pass worked through the night.

“It is south of the Sterling Highway between the Russian River and Cooper Creek,” Spargo said. “Right now, there is no imminent threat to structures. However, it is close to the Cooper Creek campground which has been closed. It has been evacuated. That’s not because of fire danger right there, that’s just because we need it for logistics and for doing fire line and some of that.”

The second fire, called the Juneau Lake fire, was noticed by state troopers and reported in just after 7:00 pm.

It was burning up by treeline, but expanded overnight toward a wetter area and hasn’t grown much above the 60 acres it had reached by Wednesday morning.

“It’s east of Juneau Lake, north of Cooper Landing,” she said. “It’s in between the Romig and Juneau cabins on Resurrection Pass Trail.”

State resources first responded with a helitack crew and scooper firefighting aircraft. Then, US Forest Service crews took over.

“We have crews doing a trap line up and down, telling people what’s going on. We’ve posted the trail. We’ve evacuated the trails from the south trailhead to the Devil’s Creek junction.”

Although they still share state resources, both fires were turned over from the state to the US Forest Service after initial assessment as their boundaries are within the Chugach National Forest.

The forest, and the nearby community of Cooper Landing have a lot of tourism activity in the summer months, as a prime recreational spot near the Kenai River.

Update: Tuesday, June 16. 9:15 pm.

Two fires are currently burning near Cooper Landing on the Kenai Peninsula.

Andy Alexandrou with the Division of Forestry says the Russian Lake Fire is “gobbling” – it’s moving fast up steep terrain near power lines, the Sterling Highway, and some residences. The fire was 20 acres when the first crew arrived earlier this evening, but they didn’t have enough resources to respond initially. Crews from the nearby Juneau Lake Fire were diverted to Russian Lake to try to protect structures.

The Juneau Lake Fire was only half an acre when crews started dumping 200 gallon buckets on the area. Alexandrou says they emptied nine loads before refueling then diverting.

Both fires are on Forest Service lands near the Resurrection Pass trail system. It is unknown if they are human caused or the result of lightening from this evening’s storms.

The Montana Creek Fires are “under control” according to Mat-Su Borough PIO Celeste Prescott.

Original Post: Tuesday, June 16. 8:30 pm.

On Tuesday evening, lightning strikes started two fires in the area of Goose Creek near Mile 95 of the Parks Highway. Sockeye Fire Incident Command spokesperson Celeste Prescott said that the Division of Forestry dispatched two tankers and a helicopter to combat the fires. She says a total of at least nine new starts due to lightning had been reported by 8:00 pm on Tuesday.

As of that time, Prescott said the aircraft reported that they were returning from the area, which could indicate that the fires have been significantly slowed.

Prescott said a hotshot crew on loan from the Sockeye Fire efforts is on the way to the fires to attempt to contain and secure the area. They are officially being referred to as the Montana Creek fires.

The Division of Forestry has also confirmed an addition fire in Cooper Landing, not far from Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula. However, details are not yet available.

After being told innumerable times that maybe she asked too many questions, Anne Hillman decided to pursue a career in journalism. She's reported from around Alaska since 2007 and briefly worked as a community radio journalism trainer in rural South Sudan.
ahillman (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.550.8447  |  About Anne

Previous articleNew Fires Ignite Near Healy Lake
Next articleAlaska News Nightly: June 17, 2015