The Redoubt Reporter will return July 8. Happy Independence Day.
Cooler weather chills Card Fire growth — Management moves into mop-up phase as blaze stays away from neighborhoods
By Jenny Neyman
Anyone bemoaning the weekend’s cooler temperatures and cloudy skies wasn’t sitting in the Card Street Fire public information meeting at the Sterling Community Center on Sunday afternoon.
As Bob Albee, Incident Commander for Team III out of Washington, told the crowd the break from the hot, dry weather of last week has helped firefighters make progress on the fire, nearly completing a containment line in the Skilak Lake area, on the northeast flank of the fire.
“I really don’t think we had any fire growth yesterday, and I’m not sure if we’re going to have any fire growth today,” Albee said.
The fire was holding at 7,657 acres, or just about 12 square miles, with the active burning toward the east in the Skilak area. The west end of the fire that had threatened homes and destroyed 11 structures in the Feuding Lane and Kenai Keys areas continued to be calm, allowing crews time to mop up hot spots.
“There are some smokes out there in this west end that people are going to see, and we’re going to get to them, but our priority is to work from the outside in and around the structures first,” Albee said.
Stewart Turner, Team III fire behavior analyst, said that the cooler, more humid conditions over the weekend dampened fire activity. It’s mostly creeping in the ground and smoldering in big fuels. The fire is still hot enough to cause trees to combust, but the ground surface has moistened a little with the recent higher humidity, so when trees do torch, the embers they throw off aren’t sparking new spot fires.
But the duff layer below the surface is still incredibly dry, and as the weather heats up, so will fire activity.
“When we get that sunshine back, lower the humidity, increase the temperatures, when that tree torches and throws those embers out then it will start to spread again. That’s what’s going to cause problems in future until this thing’s wrapped up, contained and put to bed. So, what you’re all looking for is rain,” Turner said.
And not just an afternoon sprinkle here or a day of rain there. It’ll take what’s called a season-ender event, when the dominant weather pattern changes from June and July’s typically dry trend, to fall’s rainier pattern.
“When is that going to happen? It’s very difficult to tell because this year is so abnormal,” Turner said.
For as many questions as Sterling residents had for fire management officials at a public information meeting on the Card Street Fire on Sunday, they had even more expressions of thanks. Several rounds of applause echoed in the gym at the Sterling Community Center as residents got an update on the history and projected future of the fire.
“I just want to thank you guys, because on Tuesday and Wednesday this was a monster wildfire, looking out the window at my place. And here it is Sunday we’re all sitting comfortably here not really too worried about it,” said Bob Breeden, who lives off Adkins Road, across the Sterling Highway from Card Street.
With fire activity calmed by the cloudy, cooler weather over the weekend, Bob Albee, Incident Commander for Team III out of Washington, said firefighters were able make more headway against the blaze, which was 7,352 acres, about 11.5 square miles, Tuesday morning. It’s no longer a direct threat to homes in the Kenai Keys, Feuding Lane area.
The evacuations were lifted at 1 p.m. (Saturday) because we felt everything was safe enough for everybody to get back into their homes,” Albee said.
Things might not be quite as residents left them, however. With 34 loads of retardant dumped on the fire the first day alone, it’s quite possible residents returned home to a film of red goop coating the property. Don’t be alarmed, said Alaska Division of Forestry Fire Management Officer Howie Kent, but don’t let it sit any longer than necessary, either.
“Mostly what it is is fertilizer,” he said. “That’s why you see the grass really grow next year. For getting it off like your cars, boats, houses, it is corrosive. It needs to come off right away. The best way to do that is probably soap and water and a scrub brush. … Depending on what kind of material it is, if it’s a porous material it may stain for a long time, it may just be stained for good. The sooner you can get that stuff off, the better.”
The Red Cross recommends wearing a facemask when cleaning fire retardant. The Sterling Community Center has some, if residents need them. Also, don’t let pets drink water mixed with retardant, and especially don’t use bleach to clean it up, as there’s ammonia in the retardant.
Power was restored to the subdivisions by Saturday, and a few residents had questions about restoring gas service, too.
“It’s getting cool at night, and it would be nice to have our furnaces running,” said a resident of the Kenai Keys area.
Charlie Pierce, division manager for Enstar Natural Gas, said that the delay is due to safety concerns.
“You heard about hot spots. One of the unique characteristics of natural gas is it burns. We’re playing it safe. We apologize for the inconvenience of you not being able to take hot shower or stay warm,” Pierce said.
Crews needed to finish re-energizing the line and purging the system before service could be restored, but that was to happen Monday afternoon. At that point, residents can call Enstar at 262-9334 or talk to one of six crews working in the area to get on the list to have a crew come re-establish service.
“We will get to it as quick as we can. It’s going to take some time. There are about 190 residents in the area without service right now. We will take them on a first come, served call basis,” he said.
Meanwhile, the western end of Skilak Lake Loop Road to Engineer Lake remains closed due to fire activity. The eastern end to the Upper Skilak boat launch is open. It’s not an ideal time of year to close the popular trails, cabins and campgrounds, said Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Manager Andy Loranger, but it’s necessary.
“This area is a really important recreational area. We have several campgrounds and trails and boat launches. We’ve closed those facilities for the time being to ensure the safety of the public, and basically to make sure that firefighters can do what they do best,” Loranger said. “… Our intention is to on a daily basis review the situation and based on the best advice of the team we’ll get that place opened back up just as soon as we can.”
Officials told the audience it was their goal to get everything back to normal as soon as possible.
“We know it’s been a big, long siege for you guys, being out of your homes, with no power and kind of dealing with a shock and awe experience that you’re probably not going to forget. Now comes the cleaning up time and the recovery phase for all of this,” said Fire Information Officer Terry Anderson.
By Joseph Robertia
Winding through thick stands of spruce and birch, past the down and charred remains of an old burn and over a grassy marsh, the Hidden Lake Trail finally opens up to a vista of Skilak Lake with the backdrop of the snow-capped Kenai Mountains. It’s a pristine view, wild and unmarred by any evidence of human impact — usually, at least. But lately, the natural aesthetics of the area have been spoiled.
“It’s disconcerting to say the least,” said Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Manager Andy Loranger, regarding significant damage done along the trail in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area of the refuge.
Vandalism usually conjures images of broken windows, spray-paint graffiti or carved initials — actions involving deliberate damage to public or private property. Vandalism can also include acts that negatively alter or destroy wilderness areas, as was the case around Skilak recently.
At a makeshift campsite near Skilak Lake, roughly a dozen live, green spruce trees — some with trunks more than a foot thick — were chopped down with an axe, and the downed timber left in place. Other trees had the bark completely peeled off, which will cause the tree to die eventually. Still others had large initials cut or carved into the bark, some with letters an inch thick and nearly a foot high.
“There is no cutting of live trees on the refuge. Regulations state all wood harvested should come from dead or downed trees,” Loranger said. The only exception is during the holiday season when the refuge briefly allows the harvest of Christmas trees.
“The purpose of the refuge is to protect and conserve resources, so one person cutting a tree may not seem like much,” Loranger said. “But what if the 6,000 visitors the refuge gets annually all had that attitude and chopped down a live tree?”
By Jenny Neyman
Five young, hippie artists and two cats spending six weeks driving cross-country in a 1977 Dodge Aspen pulling a Nimrod pop-up trailer, heading from New York to Alaska in 1988.
That backdrop alone paints quite the lively picture, one that artist Zirrus VanDevere mined for inspiration years later in one of her favorite mixed-media pieces. It and much more artwork, by VanDevere and others, will be up for auction Saturday in an art celebration at Triumvirate Theatre.
The auction is a sort of goodbye — for now, at least — to Alaska, as VanDevere has been in New York the last two years to be with her ailing father. So it’s fitting to include a piece that represents her journey to the state.
She and her friends were barely out of college, with barely any money between them and not much more in the way of a plan to get to their loosely chosen destination — Kasilof, where the sister of VanDevere’s boyfriend, later husband, was living.
“It was a bizarre experience,” she said. “We had so many circumstances that could have gone wrong, and it didn’t. We had some good mojo going.”
The tape deck in the car catching fire, prompting everyone to bail out through the car’s windows, as they’d become accustomed to doing on the two doors that stuck, even though two other doors worked just fine.
A border guard wanting to inspect everything in the car and trailer — which would have required a mammoth feat of unpacking, and perhaps some creative explaining. But the guard got so invested in helping search for the cat that bolted in the process that, once reunited, they were sent on their way, unsearched.
The theme of the trip was precipitation. There was a drought across the Lower 48 that year, yet every time they stopped to camp, it rained within a day or two.
“We visited with the neighbors (at a campsite in the Dakotas),” she said. “They said, ‘It’s so hot, it’s so dry!’ We’re like, ‘Don’t worry, it’s coming!’ We left in a hailstorm, I kid you not, and then it poured for days. We were like, ‘OK, time to move on, it’s raining.’”
Getting to the Kenai Peninsula, though, was more precipitous than precipitation.
“In my mind I was thinking I’d keep going. ‘Siberia, Russia, Europe — OK, I can see that, that could be interesting.’ But within a month I was looking for land. I was instantly smitten. I didn’t move five miles from where we dropped down, not five,” she said. Continue reading
By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter
Father’s Day seems to be a time when all sorts of expensive gifts are heavily promoted. That certainly includes new photo gear, with manufacturers large and small recently announcing an abundance of interesting new gear.
With this column’s typically relaxed attitude about deadlines, here are the first of our Father’s Day photo gear suggestions, just in time for Christmas presents. Well, perhaps that’s a bit premature, so we’ll start with high-magnification, superzoom cameras, just in time for summer activities, the opening day of hunting season or fire photos taken from a safe distance.
Superzoom cameras pack a high-telephoto-magnification lens into a relatively small package. In photography as in economics, you can’t get something for nothing. Inevitably, there are costs and tradeoffs. Except for the Panasonic FZ1000 and Olympus Stylus 1, all cameras that arguably qualify as superzooms use a very small, 1/2.3-inch sensor.
For a given magnification factor, the size of the lens is roughly proportional to the size of the sensor. Thus, the tradeoffs are the better image quality of large sensors, compact construction and very high lens magnification. You can have one of those three characteristics in a superzoom of manageable size.
There are other practical problems. Zoom lenses with a wide magnification ratio tend toward optical mediocrity, particularly at the highest magnifications. There are just too many design compromises required when a lens is supposed to cover every optical requirement from 24-mm equivalent wide angle, to 800-mm equivalent or higher supertelephoto.
By Jenny Neyman
On the bright side, if one can be found in the midst of a wildfire raging near your home, Kurt Strausbaugh figures he lost about 5 pounds, from the stress and exertion of trying to pack up his house as the Card Fire in eastern Sterling approached to about a half mile from his residence Monday night.
“I needed it, anyhow,” he said, ruefully. “It’s so hot loading belongings up, and not eating, scrambling, just grabbing and packing — no organization to it, just loading things up in the vehicles you have at hand.”
Not that evacuation stress is anyone’s idea of a good diet. Nor are billowing plumes of smoke and torches of bright-red flames engulfing the trees beyond your backyard anyone’s idea of enjoying the view from the deck. But that’s what Strausbaugh did Monday night, anxiously waiting to see whether he and his wife, Tammy, should hop in their vehicles and go.
“We have a lovely view when the fire isn’t chasing you down,” he said.