Spreading Swan Lake Fire prompts traffic delays and air quality warnings

Heavy smoke from the Swan Lake Fire contributes to traffic delays on the Sterling Highway on June 21, 2019. (Photo credit Alaska Division of Forestry)

A growing wildfire brought heavy smoke and traffic delays to the Kenai Peninsula Friday morning.

The Swan Lake Fire now covers more than 20,000 acres, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center. In a Friday morning update, the AICC reports the fire is burning to the east, and continued hot and dry weather conditions have resulted in “very active fire behavior.”

The fire’s eastern flank is now approximately 4 miles from the Sterling Highway, according to the AICC. As of Thursday, crews had conducted holding and mop-up activities on the southwest side of the fire and strengthened containment lines to limit the fire’s growth towards the Sterling Highway corridor.

Smoke from the blaze contributed to low visibility and major traffic delays on the Sterling Highway early Friday morning. State officials said the highway was briefly closed between mileposts 63-70 following a minor traffic collision, and pilot cars led vehicles through the heavy smoke and fog before the road was fully re-opened around 10 a.m.

Areas of smoke are expected to linger as far away as Anchorage into the weekend, according to the National Weather Service. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has issued an air quality advisory for Southcentral Alaska through June 24.

A community meeting about the fire is scheduled for Friday at 6 p.m. at the Sterling Community Center, according to the the Alaska Incident Management Team. Nearly 300 firefighters have responded to date, according to the AICC.

Sparked by lighting on June 5, the Swan Lake Fire is now one of more than seven dozen active fires currently burning around the state, according to the AICC.

Above: An 802F Fire Boss fights the Swan Lake Fire in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Sterling, Alaska. (Video credit Alaska Division of Forestry)

Kirsten Swann is a producer and reporter for Alaska Public Media.

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