Neighbors return to new normal

Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

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.

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