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Boundary Waters closed for 7 days to visitors due to growing fires

The Greenwood Fire and other Northeastern Minnesota fires are depleting resources.

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The Greenwood Fire, pictured on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, has grown to 9,067 acres as of Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021. Contributed / Superior National Forest
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The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is closed to all visitors effective Saturday due to spreading wildfires, drought and limited resources, the Superior National Forest announced in a news release. The closure will be effective for seven days, but could be modified or extended.

The closure includes all land, water, trails, portages, campsites, canoe routes and BWCAW entry points. All permits are canceled Saturday through Friday. The Superior National Forest has notified permit holders and outfitters; permit holders will be fully reimbursed. All overnight paddle, day use and motorized day use is also canceled.

The Superior National Forest also has a closure in place for the Greenwood Fire, but the rest of the forest is open to the public.

082221.N.DNT.GreenwoodFire_map3.jpg
Contributed / Superior National Forest

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A cold front and a trace amount of rain overnight did little to contain the Greenwood Fire, which has grown from 8,215 acres late Friday to 9,067 acres Saturday morning.

Winds are expected to gust up to 30-35 mph Saturday, possibly pushing the fire southeast, Pete Glover, operations chief with the Eastern Area Type 2 Incident Management Gold Team, reported in a Facebook update Saturday morning. He said none of the fire, which was first detected Aug. 15, has been contained. However, no structures reportedly sustained fire damage Friday.

PREVIOUSLY:

  • More evacuations ordered as Greenwood Fire intensifies; rain, strong winds expected overnight Meanwhile, the Moose Lake Fire near Britt is contained, but others continue to spread.
  • Lake County declares emergency as Greenwood fire spreads The wildfire has now burned across about 7 square miles, much of it spruce and balsam forest.

Crews attempted to contain points of the southern area of the fire Friday night to little avail. As the fire headed northwest across Highway 2 in the direction of Jackpot Lake, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office evacuated areas near Jackpot, Slate and East and West Chub lakes and crews focused on point protection along structures.
“It was very active. It was very challenging. Access was difficult,” Glover said.

Other crews Friday night also targeted the east side of the fire, planning for possible spread southeast to the McDougal Lake area. Glover said the strong west wind could move the fire in that direction Saturday.

082221.N.DNT.GreenwoodFire_map.jpeg
Contributed / Superior National Forest

Fire personnel are planning to possibly proactively burn land near McDougal Lake area homes — a strategy called “burnout” that removes the unburned fuel between the containment line and the fire’s edge, Joanna Gilkeson, spokesperson for the Forest Service, said Saturday afternoon. No definitive plans have been made as of early Saturday afternoon.

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Additional heavy equipment and personnel have been mobilized, the U.S. Forest Service reported Saturday. Crews will assess buildings for protection in new evacuation areas.

One affected business owner, Byron Boler, was preparing Saturday morning to drive from his home in the Twin Cities to check on his resort, Snowshoe Country Lodge, about 19 miles west of Isabella along Highway 2. He believes about one-third of his property has sustained fire damage, including a trail along the back side.

Boler and several friends bought the resort in August 2020 from longtime owner Ron Brodigan, who also operated the former Great Lakes School of Log Building on the property. It reopened a month later.

The Greenwood Fire has caused the resort to cancel 12 reservations. Its seven cabins had been booked full.

When Boler was at the resort earlier in the week to assess damage, the fire was encroaching on his property.

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Contributed / Superior National Forest

“I could hardly breathe and it was basically on the other side of Highway 2,” he said. Boler believes one cabin on the other side of the highway was in the path of the fire, but crews dug a trench around the building.

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“I got a call from the previous owner and he said another cabin looked like it got it as well,” Boler said.

Although Boler was aware that wildfires had occurred in the area before, it was uncommon, and he didn’t expect it to happen during his first year of ownership.

“Obviously, that’s a part of the business,” he said. “It’s part of nature, and nature can take its toll on you.”

Not much rain in forecast

The next chance for rain in the Isabella area is Sunday night, according to Josh Sandstrom, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Duluth. However, it’s not likely to produce more than one-tenth of an inch of rain. There is another chance for a small amount of rain Tuesday into Tuesday night.

“Not looking like big wash-outs — something to just dampen things a bit,” Sandstrom said.

Most of the week is forecast to remain dry until Thursday night and Friday.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has also expanded an air quality alert until 3 p.m. Monday for Lake and Cook counties.

About evacuations

  • Contact Lake County Emergency Management at 773-844-6449.

  • Sign up for emergency text alerts and calls from Lake County at co.lake.mn.us/emergency-management .

  • A Red Cross shelter is available at the Clair Nelson Center in Finland for residents and pets who have been evacuated. Call 425-677-5776.

  • A map of evacuation zones and wildfire perimeters is available at https://bit.ly/3D7BK6P .

Other Superior National Forest fires

John Elk Fire: 1,500 acres, John Elk Lake to southeast corner of Elton Lake, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Access and safety concerns have prevented on-ground fire suppression, but aircraft are dropping water on the fires. Wilderness ranger crews and a floatplane contacted visitors on Little Sag, Mora and Crooked lakes. The Forest Service said more ranger crews and float planes will be used Saturday to notify campers and search for visitors.

Whelp Fire: 50 acres, 4 miles northwest of Sawbill Lake. This fire expanded Friday and is creeping and smoldering, the Forest Service reported Saturday. No firefighters have been sent to this fire due to difficult access, limited aircraft resources and safety concerns. Planes continue to drop water on the fire. Wilderness ranger crews and float planes will be used Saturday to notify campers and search for visitors.

Clara Island Fire: 10 miles north-northwest of Lutsen, outside of the BWCAW. This fire continues to show heat and smoke, but remains contained to the island. It was detected Aug. 12 and was caused by an illegal campfire. A sprinkler system was installed this week that continuously adds water to the fire while reducing firefighter exposure to falling dead trees.

Steep Fire: 2-3 acres, 3 miles south of Canada border, BWCAW. This fire was detected Friday. Water drops were conducted Friday, but no firefighters will be deployed due to limited resources and higher-priority fires in the forest.

Moose Lake Fire: 25 acres, south of Lake Leander and Lake 14, near Britt. This fire was detected Wednesday. It is 100% contained and firefighters continue mop-up operations.

Fourtown Lake Fire: 265 acres, 12 miles north of Ely, BWCAW. This fire is in containment lines and is still showing some smoke Saturday, the Forest Service reported.

Closures

  • Highway 2 is closed from Forest Highway 11 to Highway 1. Highway 1 is closed from New Tomahawk Road to Lankinen Road.

  • A Forest Service closure order is in place that extends across the Kawishiwi, Laurentian and Tofte ranger districts and a small portion of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. For more information, go to fs.usda.gov/superior .

  • A temporary flight restriction for aircraft is in place over the fire area.

This story was last updated at 2:20 p.m. Aug. 21 to include the closure of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It was originally posted at 12:49 p.m. Aug. 21.

Related Topics: FIRESLAKE COUNTY
Katie Rohman has served as the managing editor of the Duluth News Tribune since 2019. She started with Duluth Media Group in 2017 as regional editor of the Superior Telegram, Pine Journal, Lake County News-Chronicle, Eastern Observer and Western Weekly. She has worked in newspapers around the Midwest since 2004.
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