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A destructive wildfire season in Alaska has only grown worse in recent weeks, as the Swan Lake Fire has spread rapidly. Located near Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula, the blaze has been fueled by an incredibly warm and dry summer.
Since being ignited by lightning on June 5, the blaze has become the country’s largest wildfire at a total size of 158,042 acres, as of Aug. 28. Along with the Ethel Creek Fire near Koliganek, Alaska is currently home to two of the country’s three largest blazes.
Brett Thomas, an operations section chief with Great Basin Team One, said that the teams fighting the blaze have been successful in starting to manage the spread of the flames. However, the widespread smoke and diminished air quality have remained a concern in many locations.
“Hopefully, the level of smoke will diminish over the next few days,” Thomas said in statement.
On Aug. 25, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation issued an air quality advisory for areas impacted by the multiple fires. Just a few days prior, Gov. Mike Dunleavy had issued a disaster declaration.
“In a short amount of time, these wildfires have already cost dozens of Alaskan families everything they own. Many homes, personal belongings, and businesses are completely gone, and the disruption brought to their lives is unimaginable,” Dunleavy said in a press release. “This declaration frees up financial assistance to help the victims of these devastating fires begin to rebuild their lives as quickly as possible.”
A recent video shared on Aug. 26 revealed a startling scene as towering flames and enveloping smoke are seen creeping close to passing cars and trucks on a highway. There have been no reports of injuries or fatalities due to the fire.
The Swan Lake Fire has also caused significant travel disruptions. While roadways like the Sterling Highway have remained open, local agencies like the Kenai Peninsula Borough have strongly discouraged drivers from traveling.
In recent weeks, heavy winds have reignited numerous areas that had previously cooled off while also pushing smoke debris further into communities. Since Aug. 18, the Swan Lake Fire grew an additional 50,000 acres, according to InciWeb.gov.
With extremely dry and warm weather expected to linger in the area for the near future, crews are anticipating only promoted growth.
“The Swan Lake Fire has and continues to threaten severe damage to life and property,” Charlie Pierce, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor, wrote in the borough’s disaster emergency declaration.