BWCAW blaze: Fighting fire with fireFire crews have burned hundreds of acres within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness this week to make sure a small forest fire doesn’t get bigger and move into populated areas.
By: News-Chronicle, Forum Newspapers, Lake County News Chronicle
Fire crews have burned hundreds of acres within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness this week to make sure a small forest fire doesn’t get bigger and move into populated areas. Fire crews lit intentional fires on Monday and Tuesday to burn trees that the Pagami Creek forest fire could use as fuel to expand.
The fires were lit from helicopters, with hundreds of firefighters on the scene and water-dropping airplanes on hand just in case. More than 100 personnel from several state and federal agencies are at the fire making sure it doesn’t spread. The fire center is just southwest of the popular BWCAW entry on Lake One.
The original fire, caused by a lightning strike last month, has burned across 130 acres near Pagami Creek, about 14 miles east of Ely. But fire crews have burned hundreds more acres on purpose to keep the wildfire in check, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Lisa Radosevich-Craig said Tuesday.
Greg Peterson, the incident commander for the Forest Service, said Wednesday the burn was a successful one, saying firefighters are now in the “mop-up and monitoring phase.”
“They are still out working, but they got through what they hoped to,” said Daria Keane, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center at the fire. Keane said crews hoped to burn between 1,700 and 2,000 acres total to create a firebreak between lakes in the area.
The original fire will then be left to mostly burn itself out, which could take days, weeks, or months depending on the weather. Lightning fires in the BWCAW generally are allowed to run their course as part of natural forest regeneration, but the Pagami Creek fire is precariously close to developed areas such as cabins and lodges off Fernberg Road to the north.
Lake County Emergency Management Director B.J. Kohlstedt said the area hasn’t had a fire in 60 years and the fire will help regenerate the area’s growth. She said care was taken to protect portage areas and any historically significant sites.
Conditions continue to be much drier in northern St. Louis, Lake, and Cook counties than in areas closer to Lake Superior, with the region officially in drought conditions, according to the National Drought Monitor.
Several other small fires have been reported in recent days across the BWCAW, but most were immediately snuffed or are being allowed to burn out on their own because of their remote locations.
All areas and entry points to the BWCAW remain open, but visitors may notice smoke in the air in several areas. They are being asked to stay away from the fire area because trees likely have damaged root systems and could topple.
Public safety crews will be on hand in the Lake One area to explain the situation to campers. Sprinkler systems were installed along portages. No burning restrictions have been imposed but warnings have gone out about the dry conditions.