Pagami Creek Fire Headlines:
-Cooler wetter weather pelts the fire Wednesday
-Winds remained high, NW gusting to 35 mph in Ely
-Smoke plume not as visible on satellite images, but clouds are obscuring plume
-Winds will ease Thursday and early Friday
-Winds will shift direction from the south and increase late Friday & Saturday
-Higher temps and lower humidity expected by this weekend
-Wildfires often burn “patchwork” pattern meaning devastation may not be complete within fire perimeter
Some good news:
The expected blast of the season’s coldest air to date peppered the BWCA Fire with rain and snow showers Wednesday.
Temperatures held in the upper 30s, with reports of rain and snow in Ely, Biwabik and at Sawbill Lake.
Dark clouds and wet streets in “downtown” Ely Wednesday afternoon.
Owner Bill Hansen from Sawbill Lake Outfitters passed me information today that they are more optimistic. Better weather at Sawbill and the fact that he has dumped as much as 50,000 gallons of water through his sprinkler system on the 4 acres surrounding his lodge have him upbeat. Here’s part of the email passed along today.
I just spoke to Bill Hansen from Sawbill Canoe Outfitters in Tofte a few minutes ago, and he wanted me to pass along some weather info to you. He said that they’ve been getting snow flurries off and on this morning.. the first flurries of the season. He said they’ve seen about a dozen snow showers go through so far today. Temperature was 35 degrees on his thermometer.
Also, FYI — he said they’re in a better position today in terms of the fire threat. The sky is blue and the surrounding area is green. Cooler temperatures and the wind shift has given them a breather. They also wetted down everything yesterday with their sprinkler system.”
The not so good news:
There’s still plenty of wind, winds gusted to 35 mph in Ely Wednesday afternoon.
The fire is likely to “survive” the onslaught of rain and snow showers and cooler weather. Lighter winds through early Friday may give tankers and air crews the opportunity to douse large areas near trails and lakes. Ground crews may be able to effectively conduct back burns, robbing fuel and slowing the fires advance. We may see some partial “containment” numbers by Friday….but that doesn’t mean the fire is out.
Extended Outlook: Mixed bag
As the center of high pressure drifts overhead Thursday, the winds will finally ease in the fire area for the frst time in days.
By late Friday, the center of the high will shift east, and winds will again increase…this time from the south.
Winds will be gusty again Saturday, and this could be a day where the fire makes a major move to the north. This could put popular BWCA lakes like Alice, Malberg, Fraser and Thomas in the fire’s path if the fire has not already reached those areas.
There are two chances for rain in the next week. Sunday and Tuesday may feature some showers. The GFS is cranking out total rainfall of around 1″ in Ely for the two systems combined. That’s not likely enough to put the fire out…but it may help suppression efforts.
Temperatures look warmer and drier again by late next week. That means we may see more fire growth in that time frame.
Freeze Warnings Tonight:
Cover those petunias!
A full fledged freeze warning is in effect for most of Minnesota through Thursday morning. The central metro core may escape a hard freeze with lows in the mid 30s, but it looks pretty likely elsewhere.
Some good news for gardeners?
If you can escape (protect from) the freeze early Thursday, much of southern Minnesota may be frost free for the next two weeks at least.
***Posted 9:15 am Wednesday***
Pagami Creek Fire Headlines Wednesday:
-Charred area has now increased to more than 100,000 acres
(Exact size difficult to determine, thick smoke plume obscuring vision from the air)
-Area burned so far exceeds area covered by downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul
-Biggest Minnesota fire in 93 years
(Larget fire in Minnesota since 960,000 acre Cloquet-Moose lake Fire in 1918)
-Popular BWCA lakes & canoe routes burned
(Including “numbered lake” chains to Insula, and eastern Kawishiwi River route)
-Smoke plume has traveled over 500 miles
-Smoke reported in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Ontario well north of Toronto
-Smoke smells odd, like “garbage” and “old tires”
-Fire likely to continue to grow largely unchecked for at least a week or more
-Survivors caught in “firestorm” on BWCA describe harrowing tale
Prime BWCA canoe routes charred:
I can’t emphasize enough how this fire will change for decades some of the most popular BWCA lakes and canoe routes. The route from Lake One to Insula contains some of the most popular lakes and campsites in the BWCA.
To the east, the fire has reached popular lakes the eastern Kawishiwi River route including Kawasachong, Square and Polly, and threatens Koma and Malberg Lakes.
I have paddled and camped along both routes multiple times. This is prime BWCA real estate. It will be changed for a lifetime.
The map below shows the fire perimeter Tuesday.
Smoke plume now 500+ miles long
Odd smelling smoke may be “blowdown decay”
Numerous reports indicate the smoke in Wisconsin and Chicago smells “odd” MPR listeners report in Updraft that the smoke smells like “burning tires” or “garbage” and not your typical “wood smoke” smell.
The answer may lie in the fact that the fire is burning through some of the “BWCA blowdown area” from July 4, 1999. The massive amount of wood on the ground in various stages of decay and rot may be the reason foe the odd smelling smoke.
MPR Updraft commenter Jon from Batavia, IL (west of Chicago) may have the best explanation.
“I live in Batavia, IL, about 40 mi W of Chicago. I smelled the smoke earlier today, thought it was some local air pollution. I wasn’t even aware there was a fire in the BWCA until I got an air quality advisory email from city hall. The smell is unsurprising, though. I went winter camping on Pine Lake a couple of times, and good firewood (legal dead & down) was surprisingly hard to find. I ended up burning some punky old
1999 blowdown pine. The heartwood was still saturated with pitch, but the microbes were slowly breaking it down. The stuff burned like old tires, hot, sooty and orange flames. The smoke smelled like a cross between old telephone poles and rotten wood. The heat was so intense that it wrecked my thin knockdown wood stove. Big streamers of soot came out of the chimney and rained down on my (formerly) white tent.
It’s not surprising that the smoke doesn’t smell like a pine-scented Christmas candle.
Luckily, the tip of the arrowhead has gotten more rain than the burn area. Lots more blowdown over there.
Commenter name: jon”
The “super charged” blowdown fuels may also be playing a role in the explosive fire growth observed thus far.
Fire weather outlook:
I still expect strong northwest winds between 10 and 25 mph in the fire zone today.
As high pressure drifts overhead tonight and Thursday, winds will calm down.
On Friday, the high will slide east, and winds will once again increase, this time from the south. As winds increase from the south at 15-30 mph by Saturday, and temps warm into the 70s, fire behavior will be more aggressive. This may be some good news for Isabella to the south, but bad news for the heart of the BWCA as the fire will be pushed northeast into the central BWCA. Prime BWCA lakes like Alice, Thomas and Fraser may be in jeopardy by the weekend.
Given the difficult (impossible) terrain and with no major rainfall events in sight, this fire may burn largely unchecked for weeks to come.
Freeze warning tonight:
A hard freeze is likely tonight and Thursday morning over most of Minnesota. It’s coming 3 weeks early this year…the average first 32 at MSP Airport is October 7th.
The inner core of the Twin Cities may just escape a hard frost/freeze with lows in the mid to upper 30s. The record low at MSP is 36 Thursday morning.