Burgers and a Breather For Firefighters, Residents

Shaylon Cochran
Firefighters file into the Soldotna Sports Center Sunday evening for a community barbeque.
Shaylon Cochran photo

     After almost two weeks battling the Funny River fire, fire crews and residents had a chance to take a quick breather Sunday night at a community barbeque at the Soldotna Sports Center. The Sports Center was a full house, with hundreds of residents coming in to say thank you.

     Or write it.

     Rebecca Stimmel of Soldotna says she was never in the fire’s direct path, but still wanted to help. So, she came up with the idea for a banner. A great big, blank thank you card for the firefighters.

     “A lot of people stood to lose hundreds of years of history. It’s a major part of your life, and to have that threatened is extremely scary. There’s a lot of happy people and a lot of safe people,” Stimmel said.

     Before the first cheeseburgers had even been served, the banner was filled with thank-you’s and well wishes. Mostly, the party was a chance for residents to give a smile and a hand shake to the crews who helped make sure their homes weren’t destroyed.

     And that’s something that state forestry supervisor Rob Allen says doesn’t happen too often for crews that are on the go, from one fire to another, all summer long.

     “We don’t get a chance to mingle with the community too often. We come and go. We’ve got more fires to go to. They are starting to look for more crews up north of the (Brooks) Range, they’ve got a big fire up by Delta. These guys will be eating and getting rested up and then moving on to another fire,” Allen said.

     The initial attack crews have been on the scene for almost two weeks, and that’s the limit. Incident Command Center spokesperson Celeste Prescott says as containment of the fire goes up, crew sizes will go down, but not right away.

     “We’re not leaving, we’re not disappearing by any means. The team is going to be here at least until the end of the week, if not longer. And after that, there will be another, smaller team that will come in and manage the fire. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”

     She says crews will work to create containment areas 100 feet deep at first, expanding to as much as 500 feet, depending on the area.

     “(That) should be good to hold it this summer. You’re going to see smoke all summer long. It’s entirely too large to and the terrain is too difficult to safely get our guys in there and put a line all around this fire,” Prescott said.

     Rob Allen said they have a secured line from Skilak Lake to Tustumena Lake and will continue to monitor hot spots with an aerial drone and infrared scanners.