ISABELLA— Firefighters were working this week to get the upper hand on what has become the largest fire yet this summer in northeastern Minnesota. The Greenwood Lake Fire, first reported Aug. …
ISABELLA— Firefighters were working this week to get the upper hand on what has become the largest fire yet this summer in northeastern Minnesota.
The Greenwood Lake Fire, first reported Aug. 15, had grown to more than 3,200 acres as of Wednesday morning, prompting more closures within the Superior National Forest as well as the evacuation of recreational facilities and residents in the potential path of the fire.
Several lakes within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness were also closed to visitor use due to the fire.
Fire officials were deploying a full air assault in an effort to bring the fire under control, but they were battling a blaze fanned by steady south winds, high temperatures, low humidity, and bone-dry conditions after weeks of intensifying drought. The conditions were creating “extreme fire behavior” at times this week, as the blaze was crowning intensely and spotting far ahead of the main body of the fire.
The U.S. Forest Service, Lake County, and the Department of Natural Resources had created a unified command to respond to the fire. A Type 2 team was set to assume command over the incident on Wednesday. Air support for the effort includes two helicopters along with fixed wing aircraft.
Among the biggest tools in the arsenal is a Boeing 737 Fireliner, (Bomber 210, N138CG), recently flown in from the New South Wales Rural Fire Service in Australia. The massive aircraft is now deployed until further notice to the USFS Air Attack Base at the Ely Airport.
Australia’s one and only large air tanker flew across the Pacific late last month to assist firefighters in the United States who are spread thin battling 61 large wildfires across several western states. It is expected to be deployed for 45 days, according to information from www.fireaviation.com.
“The plane was in Boise, Idaho, for the last couple of weeks,” said USFS Acting Aviation Officer Kevin Merrill on Monday. “She flew in this morning because of the danger posed by the Greenwood Lake Fire (located 19 miles southeast of Ely).
The massive plane didn’t sit long on the runway. Ground crews loaded 3,700 gallons of liquid fire retardant into its hold in just a few minutes late Monday morning. By 1 p.m., the plane was preparing for its second fire drop of the day. Merrill said the plane would take four or five more loads to the fire that day. “Hopefully, we’ll have this plane as long as it’s needed,” he said.
Other aircraft were on the way. “We also have two water bombers from Ontario making flights here,” Merrill said on Monday. “The Forest Service is throwing everything they can at this fire.”
MnDOT and the State Patrol, in coordination with the Forest Service, closed Hwy. 1 near Isabella Monday afternoon due to the Greenwood Lake Fire. The road is closed on southbound Hwy. 1 at New Tomahawk Road to allow traffic to go back to Babbitt or turn around. Northbound traffic is closed at Wanless Road in Isabella to allow traffic to use forest roads or turn around. Hwy. 2, from Hwy. 1 south past Greenwood Lake Road is also closed.
The McDougal Lake campground and associated facilities are closed as well and a large area of the national forest located in and around Isabella is closed, although private landowners are being allowed access for now.
Check out timberjay.com for regular updates on the fire.
For additional information about the Greenwood Lake Fire, you can also visit Inciweb.nwcg.gov or call 218-499-9441.
Timberjay Ely Editor Keith Vandervort contributed to this report.