Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said Friday that the state will do whatever it can to protect people whose homes are threatened by the still completely uncontained Pagami Creek fire that has burned for nearly a month in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
Dayton, along with Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Republican 8th District Rep. Chip Cravaack, flew over the 100,000 acre blaze Friday and met with firefighters and forest officials in Ely who are managing the fire.
The politicians all said now is not the time to question federal policy that directs how fires in wilderness areas can be fought.
Cravaack was quoted in the Star Tribune on Friday criticizing the policy behind the initial decision to let the fire burn as "nuts." But after getting an explanation from fire officials during the tour, his stance changed.
"Now is not the time to be pointing fingers," said Cravaack. "Right now is the time to learn lessons from this fire. Let's make sure we learn from this one, and let's prevent the next one."
Superior National Forest officials say they plan an extensive review of the fire and management decisions after the incident is over.
Some residents of Isabella have criticized the U.S. Forest Service for not extinguishing the fire when it first started on Aug. 18. Unprecedented and unpredictable weather conditions then helped push the fire to its current size.
FIRE IS "GOING TO WAKE UP"
Similar weather may be ahead, after days of cool temperatures. Fire information officer Doug Anderson said warmer, dryer and windier conditions are forecast.
"The fire's just been sleeping the last couple of days, with cool days, cold nights," he said. "We've had a little precipitation, and not a lot of wind, so the fire's just been sleeping there. Today it's going to wake up a little bit, we just don't know how much."
At a briefing Friday morning for firefighters, Superior National Forest District Ranger Mark Van Every warned that the fire's northeast edge is close to more of the 1999 blowdown area.
"When it hits that it can create its own weather," he said. "The highest priority is public and firefighter safety, so when we get into that situation as we found out on Monday that fire can move a lot faster than we think it can."
Van Every also announced a complete fire ban for the entire Superior National Forest. About 500 firefighters are now working to contain the wildfire, Minnesota's largest in nearly a century.
BWCA FIRE MAP
The icons contain photos of the burn area before the fire started. The icons show closed entry points. The icons indicate entry points that are still open to use as of Friday, Sept. 16, 2011.
View Pagami Creek fire in a larger map