ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A wildfire on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula expanded Wednesday but fire crews used controlled burns to create firebreaks and protect a highway leading to some of the state’s most popular tourist destinations.
The fire grew about 8% to 63 square miles and remained north of the Sterling Highway, a route to mountain scenery, salmon fishing on the lower Kenai River and halibut fishing out of Homer and other Cook Inlet communities.
The highway bisects the Kenai Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge. Refuge officials have closed campgrounds, trails and cabins.
The closest populated area is the unincorporated community of Sterling about 5.5 miles (8.9 kilometers) west of the fire’s southwest corner. Fire crews last week created a buffer to keep fire from reaching the community.
However, the fire is within 2 miles of the highway and smoke continues to create a hazard along a 10-mile section. Firefighting vehicles are using one lane and Alaska Department of Transportation personnel used pilot cars to guide people through _ and at times close _ that section.
Fire crews on Tuesday used controlled burns near the highway to lengthen firebreaks protecting the highway and a Homer Electric transmission line that connects the Bradley Lake Hydroelectric Facility to utilities north of the peninsula.
Additional controlled burns were planned Wednesday.
The fire is considered 10% contained. The Alaska Incident Management Team said 511 people are working on the fire.
Lightning ignited the fire June 5. It continued to send smoke 60 miles northeast to Anchorage, the state’s largest city.
Fire managers planned a community meeting Wednesday night in Sterling to provide fire information and answer questions. Hot, dry conditions are expected through the weekend.
The fire is one of 120 active wildfires in Alaska. Many are in wilderness areas and are not being suppressed.
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