Helicopters drop water as Minn. fire nears Canadian border

GREENBUSH, Minn. -- Despite wind gusts of 40 miles per hour Thursday, crews were able to stop a wildfire's advance just short of the Canadian border.

GREENBUSH, Minn. -- Despite wind gusts of 40 miles per hour Thursday, crews were able to stop a wildfire's advance just short of the Canadian border.

The threat is not over, however, as the northeastern corner of the 56-square-mile burned area still had flames as of evening. Because the area is a bog, ground forces can't fight the fire, leaving the task to helicopters.

Two Blackhawk helicopters were dropping loads of 600 gallons on the fire while two other helicopters were dropping 125-gallon loads. Because of the prospect of even higher winds that could spread the fire, Department of Natural Resources officials' goal was to extinguish all flames.

"We're pretty optimistic," said the DNR's Ron Sanow. "We're becoming more and more cautiously optimistic as we go on."

No structures have been lost and no one has been injured. Almost all of the affected area is state-owned land that is used primarily for hunting. It's mostly brush and grassland.


More than 40 others -- from the DNR and regional volunteer fire departments -- were working on the ground. Their work was classified as "mop-up" as they were assigned to tackling smoke from the burned grass and brush of the 36,000-acre area, insuring no flareups.

"Day 1 was chaos," Sanow said. "Day 2 we had a plan that appeared to work real well. Day 3 (on Friday) was another good day."

The fire was declared 30 percent contained Friday morning. A containment percentage is issued once a day, in the morning. "Given these high winds we're dealing with, if we're still at 30 percent contained on Saturday, it will be a major victory," Sanow said.

Efforts were aided Friday by adding resources, with equipment and fire-fighting crews arriving from Montana, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Minnesota was fighting five wildfires Friday, including the big one in the Boundary Water Canoe Area that is now 71 percent contained.

The fire was named Juneberry 3, after the Roseau County township in which it originated. The cause of the fire is under investigation. The area was under a burning ban when the fire started Wednesday.

The fire started about 10 miles northwest of Greenbush. Pushed by strong southerly winds, the fire traveled about 12 miles to the north. In its upper reaches, it was eight miles wide. Its climb was stopped about one-third of a mile from the Canadian border by burnouts.

"Canada doesn't want this fire," Sanow said. "They have enough fires of their own to handle."

Sixty people were evacuated Friday from the Royal Municipality of Stuartburn in eastern Manitoba because of three fires. They were not related to Juneberry 3.


Greenbush Volunteer Fire Department members were among the first to battle Juneberry 3 on Wednesday afternoon. Landon Olson, 22, said the fire traveled 1.5 miles before they reached the scene.

"It was already rolling when we got there," he said. "It burned so fast."

Their first priority was to protect the area's cabins, most of them used for hunting. They saved them with burnouts, a strategy of setting a fire intentionally, depriving the oncoming uncontrolled blaze of fuel to sustain itself, to form a fire break.

Olson and others battled the blaze for 13 hours the first day.

"The wind has not been in our favor yet," he said Friday morning. "But, for the most part, I think we have got it handled."

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send email to .

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