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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Fire crews work to get the upper hand

Officials: Greenwood Fire could be contained by next week

Keith Vandervort
Posted 9/1/21

REGIONAL –More than 500 U.S. Forest Service crew members battling the Greenwood Fire are finally gaining on the 40-square-mile blaze this week. This past weekend the area reportedly received …

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Fire crews work to get the upper hand

Officials: Greenwood Fire could be contained by next week


REGIONAL –More than 500 U.S. Forest Service crew members battling the Greenwood Fire are finally gaining on the 40-square-mile blaze this week. This past weekend the area reportedly received the most rain in a 24-hour period the area around the fire has received all year. More rain was anticipated for later this week.
The fire, first spotted on Aug. 15, destroyed 14 primary structures, mostly lake homes and cabins, and nearly 60 outbuildings in a major run last week, but has slowed down considerably since last weekend’s rain and stood at almost 40-percent contained by mid-week. Fire officials now project they’ll have the fire fully contained by Sept. 10.
By Wednesday, priorities continued on mop-up, improving and holding containment lines, and removing hazardous and fallen trees along roads. Weather and fuel conditions were reportedly assessed with a test burn for a potential defensive firing operation to secure a 100-200-foot buffer zone along Hwy. 1 toward Isabella.
By last Saturday, evacuation orders in the Slate Lake area were lifted. This includes the area from Chub Lake to the New Tomahawk Road. Properties in this area can be accessed from the New Tomahawk Road, coming from Babbitt, or Hwy. 1 approaching from Ely. The Slate Lake Area is not currently accessible from Lake County Hwy. 2. Evacuation orders were still in effect as of presstime for McDougal Lake, the Hwy. 2 corridor, and the Mitawan Lake Road area.
Hwy. 2 remains closed from Forest Hwy. 11 to Hwy. 1, and Hwy. 1 is closed from New Tomahawk Road to Lankinen Road.
Other fires
Thanks to the rain, USFS officials reported no growth Tuesday on the John Ek and Whelp fires, which are inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Crews began efforts this week to fight those fires on the ground. They are both deep in the wilderness and hard to reach.
The John Ek Fire was remapped using infrared data and the size was reduced to 1,339 acres. The Whelp Fire remains at an estimated 50 acres.
This week, crews continued work on improving portages to identify areas that will allow for safe access in and out, hose lays, and installation sites for sprinkler systems. Fireline locations are being identified at a safe distance from the fire that will allow crews to begin indirect fire suppression in the future. On the Whelp Fire, air resources were used to monitor and suppress fire activity. 
Firefighting resources stretched thin by the Greenwood and BWCAW fires, along with severe drought conditions, led Forest Service officials to close the entire Boundary Waters on Aug. 21. The closure was extended until at least Friday, Sept. 3.
Local impact
Smoke from the area fires caused a dramatic decline in air quality and visibility across the North Country late last week, with an area of “very unhealthy” conditions centered on Ely and points east, especially last Thursday. At one point that day, Ely’s air quality was nearly 70 percent worse than predicted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, with a particulate level of 261.
“Unhealthy” air quality predominated across the North Country throughout last weekend. The Greenwood Fire appeared to be the primary contributor to the “very unhealthy” conditions in the Ely and Babbitt areas.
Children, asthmatics and people with heart or lung conditions were advised to avoid the outdoors and all others were warned to reduce their outdoors exertion when “very unhealthy” conditions exist. Anyone can experience smoke-related health symptoms when air quality standards are deemed unhealthy or worse.
Morse/Fall Lake Fire Department Chief Ted Krueger reported last Sunday that all his department’s trucks and equipment were back from battling the Greenwood Fire as area volunteer departments were told they could stand down.
“All fire departments are back and probably just like us rehabbing trucks and getting ready for the next call,” he said in a Facebook post. “It’s been a long 14 days but it was an experience I will never forget being a strike team leader. We got the opportunity to work with many different people from all over the region and the country. It was amazing how everyone meshed and just easily worked together to accomplish one goal and made it go smoothly considering the circumstances. One thing I learned from this fire was that the fire service is a family and we all worked together and looked out for each other.”
No more donations
Superior National Forest officials leading the fight against the wildfires in northeastern Minnesota warned about a new threat this week. Bears attracted by generous donations of food and other supplies have taken resources away from putting out fires to mitigating damage and minimizing hazards to staff.
“Donations have far out-stripped our need and our ability to store what we have received,” SNF officials posted on social media. “We have no remaining storage space and donations now must be stored in the open on pallets, making them an attractant to bears. We have had two instances of bear damage already.”
Black bears are common in the North Country and the drought this year forced them to get creative in seeking food, sometimes conflicting with people.
“We understand the genuine concern and undeniable generosity of community members, but we need to be able to return the focus of our logistics staff to supporting the Greenwood Fire and our fire fighters,” officials posted.
They suggested donations to local food banks, the American Red Cross and local fire departments.
“Or thank a firefighter. We love signs along the road and cards.”

Land activity restrictions
As of last Friday, certain land management activities in the Superior National Forest were restricted to the hours of 11 p.m. to 11 a.m.  
All equipment used on the national forest must have fire suppression equipment readily available on site at all times or be in compliance with fire prevention/precaution measures specified by a timber or acquisition contract.
A fire watch person must remain on site and monitor for one hour after operations shut down for the day, according to the new order.
Land management activities included in the restriction include cutting forest products, using power saws other than trimming loads, operating tractors, skidders, feller-bunchers, forwarder logging operations, and road graders, mowing and clearing grass and brush,  dressing (sharpening) road grader blades on hardtop roads, preparing land for tree, shrub, or grass planting (e.g. roller choppers, anchor chains, and rock rakes), and any other mechanized operation that could create a spark and result in a fire.
Welding, using acetylene torches, or other devices with an open flame, to cut metal or rock, and grinding metal and rock is also restricted. Parking vehicles and machinery in tall grass and vegetation is not advised. 


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