Funny River Fire Grows, Crews Set Up Camp

Shaylon Cochran
Tents are set up for crews fighting the Funny River fire
at the base of the Tsalteshi Trails.<.br>Shaylon Cochran photo

     The Funny River Fire has now consumed nearly 50,000 acres. By Thursday morning, a command center had been established at Skyview High School, and crews were again focusing their efforts on keeping the fire away from residential areas in Funny River and Kasilof.

     As the wildfire continues into its fourth day, a command center has been established at Skyview High School. And that’s where all the information coming from the fire scene will go through. Support crews were busy Thursday morning unloading supplies and establishing communications. A little tent city behind the school at the base of the Tsalteshi Trails will be home for the fire fighters, at least until the parts of the fire near residential areas are under control.

     Celeste Prescott came in from Girdwood to help make sure the crews have what they need and the information is going where it needs to go.

     “We’ve got bus loads of crews coming in and they’ll set up here in the evening. Some of them take their stuff with them because they’ll possibly end up in the field, some of them know they’re coming back here at night and they can leave their things set up. It’s a constant work in progress.”

     They had established a hotline, where people can call any time for real time updates on the fire. That number is 714-2484.

     “What you’re seeing today, a little shift in action from a game plan and trying to get priorities set and figuring out what’s going on to an actual going out there and attacking the fire. We have over 150 people on the ground and numerous aircraft out there. The priorities have not changed. The priorities are still keep the fire away from the Funny River community and the Kasilof community,” said  Brad Nelson, Health and Safety Officer for Central Emergency Services.

     As of noon on Thursday, the fire was about five percent contained.

     “Now what we’ve got is winds out of the north, which is not a bad thing. It pushes it back into Tustumena Lake. When we have winds from the west, like we did yesterday, it just pushes it back into the Refuge. We don’t want to see winds from the east or winds from the south,” Nelson said.

     Pete Buist is a Fire Information Officer for the Alaska Inter-agency Coordination Center. He says there are three things that contribute to the growth of a wildland fire like this: weather, topography and fuels.

     “Each of those three things contributed almost equally. The fire is burning uphill towards the mountains, so you’ve got that topographical consideration. You’ve got just miles and miles of black spruce and beetle-killed white spruce. There’s some pretty heavy fuels involved,” Buist said.

     And taken with the dry weather and the high winds earlier in the week, it’s no big surprise to see a fire double in size in a short time.

     Winds were expected to pick up out of the north through Wednesday, another good thing, as it will help push the fire away from those populated areas and further into the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.