Only in Alaska could 183,249 acres burn without any structural loss. The Kenai Peninsula Wildlife refuge, which encompasses an impressive 1.2 million acres is actively burning less than 10 miles from my home. My neighbors and I in Sterling, just across the river from the “Funny River fire,” so named for its location near Funny River, Alaska wake up each morning to thick blanket of smoke and ash rain. Yet in the headlines all I see are celebrities and cute cats and I have to ask myself, does the world really care about Alaska’s forests, or are we just an amusing location for reality TV shows?
Just how big is the Funny River fire in Alaska?
It’s suspected the Funny River fire was human-caused. It began along a popular horse trail in the Kenai Peninsula Wildlife refuge just outside of the town of Soldotna early May 19, 2014. That small fire quickly grew to over 1,000 acres within a day, and now 11 days later covers 183,229 acres, or around 286 square miles and growing. To put that in perspective, the entire city of Las Vegas is listed at 137 sq. miles, Portland 145 sq. miles, and Seattle 142 sq. miles. You could fit Seattle in twice within the burn zone.
What have we lost?
At present, no homes have been destroyed and most areas are no longer on evacuation notice. No one has been injured, and no lives have been lost, perhaps that’s why this fire, despite its colossal proportions, is not national news. So, why should you care?
-One acre of forest contains roughly 200-300 trees, meaning this fire has now consumed 36,441,800 to 54,662,700 trees.
-One tree eliminates 48 lbs. of carbon dioxide a year, absorbs 10 lbs. of air pollution, and produces 260 lbs. of oxygen. The average person consumes 386 lbs. of oxygen in a year.
-It takes an acre of trees to undo the emissions produced from driving one car 26,000 miles.
In short, we’ve lost a lot.
How much bigger will the Funny River fire get?
High temperatures, low humidity, relatively strong winds and a lack of rain most of May led to the rapid spread of the Funny River fire which had been nearly doubling in size every 24 hours since ignition. Thankfully, rain is forecasted for South Central Alaska for the rest of the week which should aid the nearly 600 firefighters who are currently battling to contain the fire. The Funny River fire is only 30% contained as of Wednesday May 28, but cooler, wetter weather has helped slow the blaze considerably.
The Funny River fire has jumped the Kenai River near Torpedo Lake in the Sterling area, but is mostly controlled on that northern front. Funny River residents are also now allowed to return to their homes, but remain under evacuation warning. The majority of the fires growth is now headed into uninhabited forest. This article will be updated as new information is shared, usually every 6 hours or so for local residents.
For the trees, my community, and my home, I certainly hope for more rain.