Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Funny River fire - notes.

I was asked on Facebook how things were going with the Funny River fire, and thought that it might be of general interest here.  This is what I posted back.

It's impressive, that's for sure. If you don't already know about it, someone actually made a dedicated FB page:


We got noticeable smoke, smell and crimson-red sunshine in the fire's early days last week. Then the winds shifted and it's been much less noticeable since then--a little smell in town here, a noticeable "cloud" line there. Keep in mind we're at least 60m south of most of this; on the other hand, we know a lot of peeps in the Kenai/Soldotna area, where it's a lot worse. Fortunately, I think everyone is getting rain today, so we're hopeful.

The geography has been fascinating. Apparently the big reason we got the smoke we did was that the initial winds blew across Tustumena Lake and right down the Fox River valley, straight down Kachemak Bay and over to us. (Our place is essentially right at the juncture between "Kachemak Bay weather patterns" and "Cook Inlet weather patterns", so the fact that we got the significant smoke even out here means it went all the way down the Bay with full force. Impressive.)

The current map tells a very interesting story. The natural boundaries of the fire are the north shore of Tustumena Lake, the southwest shore of Skilak Lake (which the fire is approaching) , and the west slope of the Kenai Mountains between the lakes. That is: it stops when it hits massive water or glaciers! This covers roughly from 45 degrees to about 250 on the compass; an enormous area on the scale we're talking about. So, the firefighting is really constrained to the northwest quadrant, obviously to protect the communities of Soldotna and Sterling, and the small amount of road system (the Sterling Highway) that serves us all.

And it sounds like they've been doing an impressive job at it. It's telling that they've kept the fire at bay distinctly north of the Kasilof River, which itself would be a logical natural break (the Kasilof is the drainage outlet for Tustumena Lake); likewise, the recent improvements along Funny River Road (with which we are a bit familiar) have been impressing people with their performance. The most serious risks to people would certainly be along the south shore of the Kenai River, which would be the natural northern firebreak, but there are a lot of people on the south side of the river and I'm sure they're getting the priority effort.

It's obviously a huge blaze, and it could have been much worse. Having natural breaks on three sides and having almost nobody inhabiting the bulk of the area was lucky. As well, the wind was even somewhat helpful: initial winds blew south for long enough that by the time they shifted back to the north, the fire had to recross a fair amount of area it had already burnt, which must have robbed it of at least some force.

Scary and fascinating at the same time--truly the word "awesome" fits in its literal sense.

It should be quite interesting to see what this does to the fauna patterns over the next generation. One of the reasons that the Kenai Peninsula got such a reputation as being a place for moose, was that a giant fire had roared through the area just before most of the area was settled. Moose were actually not common on the Peninsula before that (and they're not nearly as common now as people think they are), but they thrived on the new growth, their numbers temporarily exploded just as lots of people showed up, and the misleading reputation was born. Who knows, maybe it'll happen again.

Anyway, that's my take--as limited by spending nearly the entire time doing Mr. Mom duty. (Better Half got back from Haines yesterday. You just might see a few of her photos on FB by the time she gets through with the sort-and-process task.)

The current map, as of today:

Click to embiggenate.

1 comment:

MamaLiberty said...

Was wondering if that was close to you. Glad you are all OK.

I lived in the brushfire capital of the country there in So. California, and I'm very paranoid of forest and grassland fire here. I can tell instantly the difference in the smell of the smoke from any other kind of fire.

Hope the rains come hard and knock that fire down soon. Oh, and happy moose hunting! :)