Wind-pushed fire consumes 16,000 acres along Gunflint

By Mike
Kallok
Staff Writer

Grand Marais, Minn. – Efforts to suppress a fire that has
already burned more than 16,000 acres at the end of the Gunflint
Trail near Grand Marais likely will continue for weeks if weather
conditions don’t improve.

As of press time, a front was expected to bring clouds and the
possibility of rain late in the week, but there is no major
precipitation in the extended forecast, according to Carson
Berglund, spokesman for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center in
Grand Rapids.

More than 100 people were forced to evacuate areas of the
Gunflint Trail north and west of the Cross River. The public is not
allowed from the Cross River Crossing to the end of the Gunflint
Trail.

By Tuesday, the fire had destroyed 36 structures, and 90
buildings were still in harm’s way, including the historic Gunflint
Lodge, according to Berglund.

The fire, which was burning across roughly 26 square miles in an
area 35 miles northwest of Grand Marais, had spread into Canada,
Berglund said.

Pushed by a west wind, the fire moved into a portion of the
Cavity Lake fire, which burned roughly 32,000 acres of blown down
timber in 2006.

In 1999, a windstorm toppled trees on about 450,000 acres of
forest land in and around the BWCA. Controlled burns have reduced
fuel loads in the direction of the blowdown area, Berglund
said.

The fire was reported just before noon on May 5 and is believed
to have started near Ham Lake, just outside of the BWCA.

By Sunday, the fire had reached Seagull Lake and crossed the
Gunflint Trail to the west of the Seagull guard station, knocking
out power and phone connections to the station.

A temporary command station was established at Gunflint Lodge
for the multi-agency effort that includes firefighting crews from
Minnesota, Colorado, New Hampshire, Illinois, California, Indiana,
and Utah. Three more crews are on their way, according to
Berglund.

Air support includes two heavy helicopters, 10 helicopters, two
heavy air tankers, three single-engine air tankers, and three
Forest Service DeHavilland Beavers.

Authorities don’t believe lightning ignited the fire.

‘We’re looking for a human cause near Ham Lake,’ he said.

More stringent burning restrictions were put in place Monday for
Cook, Lake, and portions of St. Louis County north of County Road
16.

Under the elevated restrictions, no burning permits will be
issued and camp fires or charcoal fires are not allowed. Gas and
propane fired camp stoves, grills, or similar devices are
allowed.

Most of north central and northeastern Minnesota has been in a
drought since last summer, and areas affected by the fire are
currently listed as severe to extreme drought, according to the
federal Climate Prediction Center.

In light of the drought’s severity, Berglund said conditions in
the weeks prior to the fire likely didn’t warrant an all out
burning ban.

‘Everything was going fine until those 25- to 30-mph winds came
and just started hammering away,’ Berglund said of weather that had
raised fire danger considerably in the days prior to the blaze.

With the arrival of Minnesota’s Fishing Opener, Berglund said
more help is on its way.

‘More help will provide improved response time,’ Berglund said
of preparations for heavy traffic this weekend.

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