Monday, October 2, 2023
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Dunleavy surveying Swan Lake fire this morning

As wildfires rage over several parts of the state, Gov. Michael Dunleavy flew over the Swan Lake Fire this morning on the Kenai Peninsula to survey the situation, and spoke to firefighters and incident managers on the ground. He is aboard the King Air aircraft owned by the Alaska Department of Public Safety.

Over 509,960 acres have burned in Alaska so far this fire season, with most of the fires — 475,000 acres of burn — caused by lightning. About 1,500 firefighters are working on the various fires right now.

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The Swan Lake fire is 15 percent contained and has burned more than 70,000 acres, according to the incident web site. The fire has been burning in a mosaic pattern through stands of black spruce.

Residents in Sterling are advised to remove needles from the roofs of their structures and get flammable vegetation away from buildings. Tips on creating a defensible space can be found here.

According to the Division of Forestry, the Swan Lake Fire was started by lightning on June 5 in the federal Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The highest values at risk are homes and private properties in and around the community of Sterling, the Sterling Highway and its associated utility right of ways and infrastructure, as well as a natural gas pipeline and structures, shelter cabins and a moose research center.

Fire managers have focused all suppression efforts to 5.5 miles east of the community of Sterling.


The Shovel Creek Fire northwest of Fairbanks is not contained. However, rain fell over the fire area Sunday and into Monday morning, significantly decreasing fire activity and giving firefighters a much-needed break, according to the incident information web page.

Although the Chatanika River remote weather station, located five miles northwest of the fire, measured 0.3 inches of rain, the cool, wet weather will not last long as a ridge of high pressure is expected to build this week bringing hot, dry weather back to Interior Alaska, the report says.

The Shovel Creek Fire has now burned more than 10,000 acres and is perceived to be a long-duration wildfire that will persist for days to come in the absence of a measureable amount of precipitation.  Many structures are threatened and under a Level 1, 2, or 3 Evacuation Alert.

Statewide, Alaska has nearly exhausted all local resources, and many fire managers have been committed to supporting large fires. These variables have increased the complexity of managing the Shovel Creek Fire, and consequently a Type 1 Incident Management Team has been ordered to assume command of the wildfire.

The Shovel Creek Fire is 10,639 acres, with 0 percent contained and 560 personnel assigned to it. It was also started by lightning.


Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.


  1. Governor Dunleavy needs to visit Fairbanks and see the destruction and smoke of the Shovel Fire….and ask why it wasn’t extinguished on day one?

    • Besides 10,000 acres of black spruce what has it “destroyed”? Has it even gotten to a road yet?


      Welcome to the Interior.

      • Bring your respirator and defibrilator, Art. FMH has a run on pulmonologists and cardiologists. Breath deep!

        • Like I said, welcome to the Interior. I can still see all the way down the aisles at Freddies.


          Never trust air you can’t see.

  2. Ah the confusing patchwork of federal and state lands, where one patch is rigorously defended for its threat to infrastructure and human habitation….and another is left to burn unchecked. Regardless of current conditions, of course. Anyone remember the the second day of Miller’s Reach? I do.

  3. Re: Swan Lake Fire. An “Alaska Fire Team” spokesman on Channel 2 this evening totally dodged the issue of public health impacts from smoke and didn’t dwell on the fact that the fire is burning uncontrolled to the north and east. We need a policy on fire suppression efforts. It looks to me like the fire people make it up as they go and simply pick the interests for protection that they like.

  4. As a resident of Kenai, the Swan Lake fire is all on Federal property (Kenai National Wildlife Refuge). The Feds are paying the tab for the fire fighting work. Also the Feds are allowing the fire to burn on the North and East flanks to consume the black spruce, and to allow natural forest regeneration to occur. Current updates to the fire can be found here.

    • Yeah, and it appears that the feds do not care about the danger to public health through severe smoke pollution. Where is the EPA?

      • The EPA is preparing regulations for your little wood burning stoves that heat you when the temps go down to minus 40. Makes good sense, right?

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