Alaska Fire Grows, Smoke Drifts

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- A fire on the Kenai Peninsula that clogged Anchorage with smoke has grown to about 22,500 acres from 16,000 acres the previous day and the smoke has drifted over Ninilchik, fire officials said Saturday.

Rain fell on the Fox Creek fire last night, but officials are unsure whether it affected the blaze. They hope higher air humidity will help eliminate some smoke.

Fire crews are aiming to keep the fire from spreading beyond the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, said Brett Ricker, a fire information officer with the Division of Forestry.

Fire crews on Saturday set up a spike camp near the northwest corner of the fire, but did not plan burnout operations because of the wet weather.

Four hot shot crews are expected to arrive throughout the weekend. A total of 74 personnel are assigned to fight the fire.

The winds appeared to have changed by Saturday because Ninilchik residents began complaining about smoke.

But the smoke could return to Anchorage in the next few days, Ricker said. Fire officials had fielded more than 100 phone calls concerning the smoke in Anchorage on Friday.

Heidi Strader, a meteorologist with the Department of Environmental Conservation, said where the air is considered hazardous, everyone should avoid outdoor exertion. Those with respiratory problems or heart disease, and children and the elderly, should stay indoors, she said.

In areas where the smoke was very unhealthy or unhealthy, some vulnerable groups were being told to avoid outdoor activity. Everyone was being told to avoid prolonged exertion.

Lightning caused the fire, which is burning on the southern shore of Tustumena Lake, officials said.

The fire, which began Monday, more than doubled in size in recent days and covered more than 16,000 acres on Friday, Ricker said.

It is not threatening any homes. The nearest homes are mostly recreational cabins in the Caribou Hills about three to four miles away.

The fire actually is doing the refuge some good, Ricker said.

''There is a lot of beetle kill. That is why they are letting it burn. If it doesn't burn someday they will have to go in there and start a fire,'' she said.