Loon Lake fire now estimated to be 75 acres

The site of the Loon Lake fire, seen here Monday, June 14, 2021, shows little smoke rising from...
The site of the Loon Lake fire, seen here Monday, June 14, 2021, shows little smoke rising from the fire following an aerial attack on Sunday by water and retardant-bombing aircraft.(Photo courtesy Alaska Division of Forestry)
Published: Jun. 14, 2021 at 2:19 PM AKDT|Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 10:15 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A wildfire burning in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula is now estimated to be 75 acres in size, after the Alaska Division of Forestry was able to perform more accurate mapping.

Originally reported on Saturday night, the Loon Lake fire was initially estimated to have grown from 6 acres to 150 by Sunday. In a Monday release, the division wrote that better mapping revealed the fire’s true size to be about 75 acres.

“A lot of times, those initial acreage estimates are a little wonky, and they get adjusted once you get better mapping and you get more eyes in the sky and some eyes on the ground,” said Tim Mowry, a public information officer with the Division of Forestry.

Ignited by lightning, the fire is burning in a remote area of the refuge more than 10 miles from Sterling, and the division has said the community is not in danger. The Loon Lake fire started about a mile from the location of the 2019 Swan Lake fire, a 170,000-acre blaze that affected travel to and from the peninsula and threatened the community of Cooper Landing.

Dan Michels, a resident in Cooper Landing, is one of those people whose home was threatened by the Swan Lake fire in 2019.

“Nobody has ever seen a summer like this,” he said in August of 2019. “We’re all tired of it, no doubt about that.”

On Monday, Alaska’s News Source reached out to Michels again. After hearing about the Loon Lake Fire, he said he’s not surprised, but he is concerned.

“We’ve had some lightning here in the past week so it doesn’t completely shock me,” he said. “It’s a little concerning that it’s so close to where the Swan Lake fire started.”

Karri Davidson is also a resident on the Kenai Peninsula between Sterling and Soldotna.

“I’ll never leave this area, I love it here,” she said.

Davidson is an admin on the Sterling, AK Neighborhood Watch and Community group on Facebook. She said residents in the area are on guard not only after the Swan Lake fire, but also the devastating Funny River fire in 2014.

“People are very scared. We lost a lot of trees this year, it was really bad,” she said. “I have two acres and I’ve lost over 25 huge trees, so what I call them is standing bonfires. One little spark and it’s gone.”

Firefighters first reached the Loon Lake fire on Saturday night.

“The primary focus at this point is securing the south flank to prevent spread toward the community of Sterling and the Sterling Highway,” the division wrote of the Loon Lake fire on Monday.

Since then, several water and retardant drops have been made on the blaze. Two water-scooping aircraft were deployed to fight the fire, and one of them made 69 drops of a total 48,000 gallons of water alone on Sunday afternoon, according to the division.

Mowry says the Loon Lake fire is under control, and burning in a designated wilderness area.

“We responded pretty aggressively to this fire,” he said. “We contacted the refuge, they gave us the go-ahead to suppress this fire, unlike the Swan Lake fire which was allowed to burn for a week or so because we had higher priority fires in the area that we had to deal with.”

The aircraft took water from the nearby Swan Lake. The second aircraft was out of commission for part of that time due to a mechanical issue, the division wrote.

Separately, an air tanker on Sunday dropped an additional 10,000 gallons of water on the Loon Lake fire along with 7,700 gallons of retardant. On Sunday evening, 15 members of the Gannett Glacier Fire Crew were brought to the fire to begin containment efforts along its south flank.

The Pioneer Peak Hotshots from the Division of Forestry and the Midnight Sun Hotshots from the Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service were on their way to the scene Monday, according to the division, and were scheduled to get there Monday afternoon to support containment work on the ground.

A temporary flight restriction is in place over the area of the fire, the division wrote, “to ensure a safe environment for aircraft working on the fire.”

Mowry says right now, residents should be prepared, but shouldn’t be too concerned at the moment.

“We just ask them not to get too revved up about this,” he said. “Like I said, this fire is not threatening anything at this point, we’re taking full suppression action on it, and we’re trying to prevent what people endured two years ago.”

Refuge managers are working toward 100% containment on the fire. It’s currently 15% contained.

As of Monday, there were 32 active fires in the state, according to Alaska Interagency Coordination Center. Due to current weather conditions, the state increased to preparedness level two.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information and quotes.

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