Around MN: Cutting a line in the Pagami Creek fire

Crews endured sleet and snow as they continue to battle the largest fire in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in decades. The rate of the fire’s spread slowed significantly on Wednesday, but warmer weather and wind are in the forecast. That’s not the kind of support crews are hoping for from mother nature as this fire burns out of control.

So far more than 100,000 acres have burned.

The complex terrain of the Boundary Waters is making it difficult to get to the edge of the fire. Some crews are having to canoe to the area of the fire they are fighting, it can take hours to reach their destination. This is the first time some of the fire fighters have been in a canoe.

Mike Rice was among those working on a fire line where workers attacked trees and roots with bulldozers and hand tools to remove combustible material in advance of the fire.

“It’s very dangerous,” he said. “There’s obviously lots of smoke and fire, and hazardous trees — snags, we call them — that are weakened by fire. The winds have really become a hazard.” (Star Tribune)

The Lake County News Chronicle details the battle Patty and Gregg Scott are undertaking to protect their log home.

The Scott’s “spent four years building their log home here, on their own, from the ground up, and they weren’t about to sit around and wait for the Pagami Creek fire to burn it down.”

The article continues and provides a brief look back at the history of the fire.

One week ago only about 2,000 acres had burned, and everything seemed under control. The idea to fight fire with fire seemed to work well, and there was little criticism of the plan to let the fire burn on its own to help renew the forest in the wilderness where there is no private property in harm’s way.

It was hoped the fire would simply blow back on itself and die as cool, wet autumn weather moved in.

But forecast rain never showed up. September northwest winds, usually cool and moist, instead came hot and dry. Last weekend, with temperatures soaring into the 80s and the forest already in a severe drought, unusually strong westerly winds blew the fire into an inferno that burned east across more than 20 miles of forest as fire crews could only watch in awe.

The primary objective of Superior National Forest officials, to keep the fire within the confines of the BWCAW, failed sometime Monday or Tuesday when the fire roared over the imaginary line on the map

MPR’s Dan Kraker shares a harrowing tale from a group of rangers.

Winds of nearly 40 miles per hour on Monday drove the fire much faster and farther than forest officials had predicted — nearly 18 miles in one afternoon.

That afternoon six wilderness rangers paddled down Insula Lake, warning campers to evacuate. As they were leaving, district ranger Mark Van Every said they heard the sound of fire approaching them.

“They realized they needed to get to a safer spot, and so they got in their canoes, traveled north on the lake, it became very smoky, very difficult to see,” he said.

Winds in front of the fire whipped waves on the lake three to four feet high.

“Some of the individuals actually got in the water, and deployed their fire shelters over the top of them,” Van Every said.

Others made it to a small, rocky island. Van Every said they stayed in their shelters — basically small tents made of a kevlar and aluminum fabric to reflect the heat — for about an hour.

“They were receiving extensive showers of embers,” he said.

Although the rangers felt the intense heat of the fire, they made it out safely. Van Every said campers have all made it out safely as well, but couldn’t say exactly how many were evacuated — only that it’s a large number. Officials estimate that about 50 percent of the BWCA is now closed.

Support from Manitoba, additional Blackhawks join BWCA fire fight

Areas around the fire were assessed and additional BWCAW and road closures were enacted. The National Guard is sending four Blackhawk helicopters and Manitoba is sending two water bombers and an air attack plane (WTIP).

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