Daily Archives: May 21, 2014

Fire away — quick response, wind keeps Funny River Fire heading south

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. A Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopter carries a load of water to the Funny River Fire burning to the south of Funny River Road on Monday. The Alaska Division of Forestry deployed a combination of choppers and air tankers to battle the blaze.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. A Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopter carries a load of water to the Funny River Fire burning to the south of Funny River Road on Monday. The Alaska Division of Forestry deployed a combination of choppers and air tankers to battle the blaze.

Wednesday update: The Funny River Fire expanded to more than 20,000 acres (31.25 square miles) by Wednesday morning, including to the north toward Funny River and the west toward Kasilof.  The blaze came close to Funny River Road on Tuesday night, but was stopped by air support, fire crews on the ground and an existing fuel break, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center early Wednesday morning. Firefighters Wednesday are focusing on securing the north flank of the fire, to the south of Funny River, and the southwest flank, to the east of Kasilof. Smoke that had been blowing south now is significantly affecting Soldotna and Kenai.

 

 

Photo by Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter. Convair 580 aircrafts, turbine engine conversions of the earlier Convair 340 piston-powered aircraft, prepare for takeoff Monday evening in Kenai to return to service dropping water on the Funny River Fire. The aircraft are  on loan from Conair, in Canada, a group that converts older aircraft into air tankers.

Photo by Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter. Convair 580 aircrafts, turbine engine conversions of the earlier Convair 340 piston-powered aircraft, prepare for takeoff Monday evening in Kenai to return to service dropping water on the Funny River Fire. The aircraft are on loan from Conair, in Canada, a group that converts older aircraft into air tankers.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Windy, dry conditions are ripe for wildfire disaster. But, thus far at least, that disaster has been avoided with a wildfire that broke out Monday afternoon a mere three miles from the Soldotna Airport, and even closer to homes on Funny River Road.

A persisting stretch of unseasonably warm, sunny weather coming before full spring green-up on the central Kenai Peninsula has dehydrated forest conditions from timber to a crispy-crunchy tinder. But luck, it appears, is in the wind — the same 30-mile-per-hour gusts that whipped the fire from 2 acres when it was first reported at about 4:30 p.m. Monday to about 11 square miles Tuesday afternoon, have continued driving the blaze south through uninhabited Kenai National Wildlife Refuge land to the northwest shore of Tustumena Lake.

Photo courtesy of Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter. The smoke plume from the Funny River Fire could be seen from Soldotna to Kenai and beyond, with smoky conditions reported Tuesday as far south as Kodiak.

Photo courtesy of Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter. The smoke plume from the Funny River Fire could be seen from Soldotna to Kenai and beyond, with smoky conditions reported Tuesday as far south as Kodiak.

Despite the quick spread and large size of the fire, with billowing, smoky plumes visible throughout Soldotna and Funny River to Kenai, Kasilof and beyond, it still is not threatening any structures, said Andy Alexandrou, public information officer for the Alaska Division of Forestry, on Tuesday. The Soldotna Airport even remained open to private traffic, though aircraft are restricted within five miles of a wildfire.

“It’s burning away from any homes, there’s no structures threatened, there’s no evacuations in place. It has burned to the northwest shore of Tustumena Lake so it’s butting up against the water and is flanking from there, which makes for a little less hazard for a firefighter to fight a flanking fire versus a head fire. We wouldn’t put firefighters in front of a head fire, that’s way too risky,” Alexandrou said.

Stiff winds whipped up billows of smoke, but also kept the fire heading south into uninhabited Kenai National Wildlife Refuge lands.

Stiff winds whipped up billows of smoke, but also kept the fire heading south into uninhabited Kenai National Wildlife Refuge lands.

The Alaska Division of Forestry is spearheading the response, and had two helicopters dumping buckets of water to cool the perimeter of the fire, as well as two air tankers also dousing the blaze. By Tuesday there were two, 20-person crews on the ground grubbing out firebreaks in the Funny River area and trying to prevent a spread north or west toward inhabited areas. Though the response so far has been successful, that doesn’t mean it’s been easy.

“There’s nothing light duty about this one. I left here at midnight (Monday) night and got here a few minutes after 8 (Tuesday) morning,” Alexandrou said. “I went home to watch my dog cross her legs one more time before she was able to relieve herself, and I’m very glad of that because I do have carpeting in my home. It’s been very, very busy.”

On Tuesday afternoon a Type-II management team — with representatives from various federal and state agencies — took over control of the fire response, to free up local firefighting personnel should they be needed in another area.

“With that comes some very expertise firefighters. The teams are designed to take over the management of a project fire and relieve the local area the duties of that project fire, so the local area can concentrate on doing patrols and the initial attack if a new fire starts,” Alexandrou said.

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Fire threatens Tyonek, moves to Beluga

Photo courtesy of the Alaska Division of Forestry. Fire nears the village of Tyonek on Tuesday.

Photo courtesy of the Alaska Division of Forestry. Fire nears the village of Tyonek on Tuesday.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

A wildfire threatening Tyonek took a turn for Beluga on Tuesday, offering some relief to a community that has been anxiously watching the blaze jump the Chuitna River on the north edge of town, but renewed fear that it might now reach the neighboring community 10 miles away.

“They kind of contain it then it jumps, it flares up over the place. You talk to the firefighters and they say it’s a hard type of fire to deal with because it’s so spotty and so quick,” said Donita Slawson, Tyonek tribal administrator. “It’s been jumping back and forth on the Chuitna River. Once they think they got it under control then it hops somewhere else unexpectedly. I’ve never seen a fire of this magnitude. It’s almost out then it’s like you can just see the fire and flames moving again.”

“It feels like a dream, it really does,” she said — a bad one.

Slawson called 911 to report the fire Monday afternoon, after power flickered in the village and residents went outside to see quickly growing billow of smoke.

The fire was estimated at 10 acres initially, but strong winds helped it spread to 350 acres by Monday evening, and reportedly over 1,000 acres by Wednesday morning.

The Division of Forestry dispatched helicopters and air tankers to work the fire from above, and more than 70 personnel are fighting it on the ground, including help from Central Emergency Services in Nikiski. Even villagers are pitching in, helping clear and strengthen firebreaks. Swanson said Tuesday she was looking out her window and saw two village women working with the crew on a fire truck going past her house.

“Whatever we can do,” she said.

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Nice ice pick — 2 peninsula bettors among Nenana Ice Classic winners

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Ola Mullikin, of Homer, can never again say she never wins anything, as she and Jake Morris, of Sterling, are the only two Kenai Peninsula-based winners of the 25 who correctly guessed this year’s winning time for the Nenana Ice Classic.

The tripod on the Tanana River officially went out at 3:48 p.m. April 25 Alaska Standard Time — the seventh-earliest breakup on record — but it takes weeks to sort through all the tickets to determine the winners.

“Almost all of it is done by hand,” said Cherrie Forness, Ice Classic Manager. More than 300,000 tickets were sold this year at $2.50 per ticket guessing the date and time, down to the minute, that the ice would break up enough to move the tripod.

“We’ve got about 100 workers who go through them all, organizing them numerically, then entering them into a database, then rechecking the actual ticket to the database, and if anything doesn’t jive we do it again. That’s what takes so long,” Forness said.

The workers checked as many as 10,000 to 15,000 tickets per day, working two shifts — one spending up to 14 hours a day entering the data, and the other shift spending eight hours comparing and correcting the data. With that work finally done, the winners were notified, and checks will be mailed to the winners June 2.

“It’s still pretty shocking,” Mullikin said. “I had no strategy to my guess. It was just a total fluke.”

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Language of learning — Students helping students learn Spanish in Soldotna

Photos by Jenny Neyman Redoubt Reporter. Soldotna High School student Claire Kincaid helps Redoubt Elementary fifth-grader Logan Houser make a pinata May 5 at Redoubt.

Photos by Jenny Neyman Redoubt Reporter. Soldotna High School student Claire Kincaid helps Redoubt Elementary fifth-grader Logan Houser make a pinata May 5 at Redoubt.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

In any language, certain things make for interesting instruction — new content presented with crafts, songs, games and other activities by an enthusiastic teacher with which students feel a genuine connection.

And who better than students themselves to know that avoiding a boring, droning lecture is important to learning — muy, muy importante, in fact.

That’s been the premise behind a multigrade effort in Soldotna that has had students from Soldotna High and Middle schools teaching Spanish to Redoubt Elementary students.

“We do a lot of brainstorming on what makes a good lesson, what makes an engaged learner and what makes an engaged teacher. And so we talk about, ‘If you’re receiving this lesson, what do you want it to look like? What makes it fun for you?’ And that’s what you want to do to go teach it to somebody else,” said Sheilah-Margaret Pothast, who has been taking her Spanish 2 students to visit Redoubt for six years now.

Soldotna Middle School students (from left) Mikala Mudrick, Sean McMullen, Delaney Risley, Sam Snow and Kyle Bauter, make tortillas in Spanish class at the end of the school year. Part of the students’ experience in Spanish class is to help teach the language to elementary kids.

Soldotna Middle School students (from left) Mikala Mudrick, Sean McMullen, Delaney Risley, Sam Snow and Kyle Bauter, make tortillas in Spanish class at the end of the school year. Part of the students’ experience in Spanish class is to help teach the language to elementary kids.

In years past it’s been middle-schoolers paired with first-grade classrooms, but with her largest-ever class this year, Pothast’s students branched into kindergarten and second-grade classes, too.

“The awesome thing is that the kids got to see differences in grade levels as far as, how do you prepare for a kinder as opposed to how do you prepare for a second-grader?’” Pothast said. “The kinder teams had to think about, ‘OK how do we take this content and make it approachable for a kinder?’ The second-grade team had to think about, ‘OK, how do we take this content and make it more challenging?’”

The content of the lessons is set — colors and numbers one visit, animals the next and parts of the body the third — but the delivery varies and is developed with the students’ firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of instruction.

Flash cards, coloring pages, interactive PowerPoint presentations and songs were useful teaching tools (“Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in Spanish was a particular hit). Beyond that it helps to be excited, patient, to interact with students one on one and to give lots of encouragement, said Soldotna Middle students Kamry Meyer, Luke Trammell, Brandon Crowder, Michael Reutov and Hanna Noyes.

“Give them high-fives,” Meyer said.

“Be entertaining,” said Noyes.

“Always go there with a smile on your face,” said Trammell.

But students also learn that teaching isn’t always a pedazo de la torta (piece of cake), however.

“They have a lot of energy, they’re fun to teach, but can get distracted easily,” said Reutov.

“Getting them to interact sometimes (is hard). You have to get on their level,” said Trammell.

“It’s fun but at the same time it’s hard to teach to little kids because they can’t pronounce the words right at first. It kind of takes awhile,” Meyer said.

Pothast, meanwhile, is ready to assist if needed, but otherwise observes and learns some things herself.

“It’s so fun to see the interactions with some of the kids. You see them here in this particular setting (at Soldotna Middle) and you know them in that environment, and then you go and watch them teach little guys and you get to see another side of them,” she said. “That is so cool. I see my big tough guys who are very cool here, and then they go over and they’re just really sweet and gentle. It gives you an opportunity to see them in an entirely different light. And the little kids love it. They think it’s a lot of fun. They’re always excited when we come over.”

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Plugged In: Taking a wider view at extreme lenses

Photos courtesy of Joe Kashi. Illustration 1.

Photos courtesy of Joe Kashi. Illustration 1.

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

“Double, double toil and trouble. Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.” Well, that’s how Shakespeare described predigital wizardry methods in “Macbeth.” As I’m not even faintly related to the Bard, this week’s potpourri of digital-era wizardry is less exotically written and, lacking eye of newt, blander than that famous Scottish stew recipe.

Most current midrange and upper-level digital SLR and compact-system cameras are already more than good enough for virtually all serious photography. Unfortunately, the majority of affordable lenses, especially extreme telephoto and wide-angle lenses, fail to match the capabilities of modern digital camera bodies, while improving only slowly. Not uncommonly, the performance of individual copies of the same lens model differs considerably due to manufacturing and assembly variations.

For that reason, we’ll focus less on detailed comparison of camera bodies in the future and more on good-quality, affordable optics. Lenses are now usually the weakest link in the photo-making process, except for the analog computer that decides which subjects to photograph and when to press the shutter button.

This week, we’ll take a look at some optical extremes, super-telephoto lenses and extreme wide-angle lenses. Each has separate and very distinctive uses once you’ve become familiar with them.

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