Forest fire near Ely apparently sparked by downed power lineEyewitnesses in Ely said flames could be seen from the city and smoke was enveloping the town.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Crews this afternoon are battling a forest fire just outside Ely that apparently started when a vehicle drove over a downed power line.
Gusty winds were blowing the fire toward town and eyewitnesses in Ely said flames could be seen from the city and smoke was enveloping the town.
The southeast corner of Ely appeared to be the most in harm’s way, and parts of Ely south of White Street and east of Fifth Avenue East have been ordered to evacuate by Ely Mayor Roger Skraba. That’s larger than the original evacuation zone.
Anyone who can’t leave on their own should call 911 for transportation.
“The fire was right up to the Ely cemetery. The part of town near the Pamida is right in the path,” said Warren Davis, an assistant fire captain for the Berkeley, Calif. Fire Department who is on vacation in the area and who e-mailed photos to the News Tribune.
Radio station WELY is using its website to notify people of the evacuations and approaching fire but its radio station is off the air due to the power outage.
St. Louis County Commissioner Mike Forsman of Ely said the strong winds have blown right to the edge of town by 4 p.m. He said fire engine crews from Ely, Babbitt, the U.S. Forest Service, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and numerous township volunteer fire departments are making a fire line on the southeast side of Ely.
Forsman said he was being asked to evacuate. As of 4 p.m. he said there was no confirmation of any buildings burned or any injuries.
Eyewitnesses in Ely said flames could be seen from the city and smoke was enveloping the town just before 3 p.m.
The fire started about 1:45 p.m. along Minnesota Highway 1 about one mile south of Ely, said Jean Goad, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center in Grand Rapids.
Fire-engine crews, helicopters and two CL-215 water-bombing airplanes were trying to douse the fire that already had expanded to an estimated 20 acres by 2:30 p.m.
The fire is on National Forest Service land, she said.
Grant Klevein said he was driving his linen-service-delivery truck on Highway 1 when he saw another vehicle hit the downed power line.
“The line sort of bounced up and sparked, and the sparks started a fire in the ditch. It hit a pine tree and it just went up instantly. … The fire just went like crazy. I had to back my truck out of there to avoid the flames,” he said. “I’m sitting in Ely now and there’s ash falling on me.”
Winds were blowing from the south at 22 mph this afternoon, gusting to 35 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
While most of the Northland has received ample rain of late, the Arrowhead remains in a very dry period.
“We’ve just paged out our rescue squad to help with some evacuations,” St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman said. “It’s growing rapidly and we don’t have a lot of information yet.”