Cool, wet weather gives BWCA firefighters a leg up
Firefighters made significant gains Sunday, slowing the progress the Pagami Creek fire, which has burned 93,898 acres of forest, mostly in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. As of late Sunday, the fire was 19 percent contained -- up from Saturday's 8 percent estimate.
Wet, cool weather helped fire crews Sunday as they worked to subdue the fire. Showers dropped a little over a third of an inch of rain on the area.
As crews strengthened their fire line along the southern edge of the fire, several year-round residents previously evacuated from their homes east of Isabella were allowed to return, said Doug Anderson, a spokesman for the multi-agency team fighting the fire.
Sunday's soaking should help keep the fire in check today, with dry, warmer weather expected. More rain is forecast Tuesday and Wednesday.
"We're looking to get our lines in good shape before a drying trend sets in," Anderson said. "This weather has given us an opportunity, and we're jumping on it as hard as we can." In all, 598 people are now working the fire.
But firefighters are taking nothing for granted and have taken steps to protect 30 structures on the south side of the fire.
Work also continues on a spike camp near Isabella that will provide hot meals, shower facilities, toilets and camp accommodations for more than 250 workers.
Anderson said crews were not sent to the spike camp on Sunday, however. They were instead sent to a Boy Scout facility to take shelter.
"A lot of times on fires like this, people develop a kind of respiratory virus we call 'camp crud.' We have some guys starting to hack and wheeze right now, and we want to keep them as healthy as we can," said Anderson, explaining the decision to delay use of the spike camp.
The fire, about 14 miles east of Ely in the Pagami Creek area between the South Kawishiwi River, Clearwater Lake and Lake One, was started by lightning on Aug. 18.
While many entry points to the BWCAW have been closed because of the fire, several remain open, including those along the Echo Trail (i.e., Mudro), Moose Lake, Wood Lake, Fall Lake, Trout Lake, Entry Point No. 42 on Brule Lake, No. 54A on Seagull, No. 55 A on Saganaga, and the small separate section northeast of the Gunflint Trail from No. 58 on South Lake on the west to No. 70 on North Fowl to the east.
As for roads, Highway 1 remains open.
Closed to traffic in Lake County are the following: all roads north of Highway 1 from Forest Road 1468 east to Isabella; Wanless Road (FR172) east to Cramer Road/Lake County Road 7; Cramer Road/Lake County Road 7 and Hoist Creek Road; and Highway 1 and East Grade Road.
In Cook County, a roadblock has been established at Sawbill Trail and Four-Mile Grade (Cook County Road 3 north of the intersection has been closed). Meanwhile, Four-Mile Grade is closed between forest roads 339 and 340.
Because of drought, the risk of fire remains high in the Superior National Forest area, and a forest-wide ban remains in effect for campfires, charcoal fires, wood-burning camp stoves and charcoal grills. Use of pressurized liquid gas stoves is still allowed.
With grouse season beginning, hunters have been warned to be alert when passing through areas where the fire has been active. In places with shallow soils, trees that are still standing in the fire zone could be compromised and prone to falling, especially in windy weather.