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Crews making progress on northern Minnesota wildfire

Northwest Minnesota wildfires

Helicopters drop water as Minn. fire nears Canadian border

A large wildfire in Roseau County was about 85 percent contained late Saturday, as improving weather conditions allowed attacks from both the air and ground.

The 34,000-acre fire could be brought under control within a day or two, according to Ron Sanow, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources public information officer.

One National Guard Blackhawk helicopter and a smaller helicopter dropped buckets of water from the air onto the fire until about mid-afternoon Saturday.

"We made pretty good progress," he said late Saturday. "We used a whole lot less water. The only thing not contained is an area in the northeast. We're hitting that with helicopters, and that should take another day or two to contain."

The fire, named Juneberry 3, after the Roseau County township in which it started, began early Thursday afternoon about 10 miles northwest of Greenbush, Minn. Strong southerly winds spread it over roughly 56 square miles.

On Friday, two Blackhawk helicopters using 600-gallon buckets and two smaller helicopters using 125-gallon buckets, were used in an aerial attack in a remote area of the fire line, where boggy conditions restrict use of manpower and equipment.

But Friday's winds, which gusted to above 40 mph, halted the aerial attack by about 5:30 p.m.

On the ground, local fire departments from Greenbush, Lancaster, Lake Bronson and Badger, Minn., aided the fire fight.

In all, some 150 firefighters and another 40 support crews from DNR and the regional volunteer fire departments kept the fire in check Saturday. Officials estimated containment at about 60 percent by Saturday morning.

"We gained considerably yesterday, even though we had miserable conditions," Sanow said Saturday.

The helicopters finished their aerial assault at about 3 p.m. Saturday, after smoke no longer was visible from the air.

Officials expected to monitor the scene through the night and be ready to attack it again this morning, according to Sanow.

About a dozen rural cabins in the area have not been damaged.

"They're doing lot of good work around them," he said. "We're feeling really good about it."

Officials are encouraged by a forecast of cooler weather and the possibility of some precipitation over the next day or two.

Besides Juneberry 3, crews also are fighting a smaller, 700-acre wildfire in a grassy, bush area about 10 miles to the west in a rural section of eastern Kittson County, as well as another small fire near Salol, Minn.

Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send email to