Northeastern Minnesota wildfire grows to 5 square miles

Published 12:23 pm Wednesday, August 18, 2021

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MINNEAPOLIS — A wildfire in the Superior National Forest of northeastern Minnesota has grown to 5 square miles (13 square kilometers) as hot, dry and windy conditions persist, officials said Wednesday.

U.S. Forest Service and other crews have been fighting the fire from the air and on the ground since it was spotted Sunday afternoon near Greenwood Lake, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) southwest of the town of Isabella. The fire covered a little over 3 square miles (7.7 square kilometers) Tuesday morning.

The fire led authorities to evacuate around 75 homes Monday near McDougal Lake. Many dwellings in the area, which is deep in the forest, are seasonal cabins. Some small portions of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area to the north and northeast were closed as a precaution Tuesday due to the blaze and two smaller fires spotted over the weekend in the wilderness.

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Among the evacuees were 100 sled dogs from White Wilderness Sled Dog Adventures near Isabella. Owner Peter McClelland sent 50 of his dogs to his kennel near Ely and the rest to stay with fellow mushers. He told WDIO-TV on Tuesday that his dogs were taking it in stride.

“The nice thing about the working dog or an animal you work with, you’re always used to doing weird things with them and traveling with them and camping with them,” McClelland told the station. “And so even though this is something the dogs have never done, they key in on you and they know they can trust you. And I know I can trust them.”

No injuries and no damage to structures had been reported as of Wednesday. Fire commanders have been making heavy use of water-scooping planes and helicopters to help stop the fire until crews on the ground can contain it.

Nearly 100 major wildfires are burning across a dozen Western states, including devastating fires that are advancing through Northern California.

The forecast for Wednesday in northeastern Minnesota called for temperatures in the high 80s, gusty winds and low humidity amid the ongoing drought that stretches to the West Coast. There’s a chance of severe thunderstorms on Friday night, which would bring rain but also lighting, which is a frequent cause of forest fires in northeastern Minnesota.

Wednesday marked the 10th anniversary of the detection of the largest wildfire to hit Minnesota in more than a century. The Pagami Creek Wildfire was caused by a lightning strike east of Ely in the Boundary Waters. It smoldered in a bog for days before erupting to blacken 145 square miles (375 square kilometers), mostly within the wilderness area, including areas north of the Greenwood Lake fire. It wasn’t contained until late November 2011. Nobody was seriously injured. Six firefighters had to take refuge in their small personal fire shelters to survive the rapid advance of the blaze.