Crews battling a wildfire in a northern Minnesota wilderness area are finally making progress bringing the blaze under control, a spokeswoman said Friday.
The fire is now 8 percent contained after several weeks of burning out of control, fire information officer Lisa Radosevich-Craig said. She called that "pretty exciting" news.
"It's always exciting when you go from zero (percent contained) to something," Radosevich-Craig said Friday evening.
Radosevich-Craig also says the size of the blaze has been lowered to about 146 square miles or more than 93,000 acres, due to better mapping as smoke clears.
The contained area is on the northwest corner of the fire, near where the blaze was started by lightning in mid-August, Radosevich-Craig said.
Tim Norman, a deputy fire management officer for the Superior and Chippewa National Forests, said the news of containment is good for morale of fire crews.
"That 8 percent is in critical areas, and that's areas near structures, areas where it's come outside of the wilderness," he said. "That 8 percent is something that we're very, very happy for, because that 8 percent is area that has the greatest threats."
After several days of favorable weather, Friday brought less favorable conditions. U.S. Forest Service spokesman Doug Anderson had predicted a "more active fire day" in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, where officials once said the blaze had consumed more than 160 square miles, or more than 100,000 acres.
Erin Heep, a fire information officer, said winds will be gusting from the south at 20 miles per hour and away from Isabella — the nearest town to the fire.
"Southerly winds would not affect Isabella at all," Heep said. "That would be good news for folks in the Isabella area."
Heep said crews will watch the northern edge of the fire closely Saturday. The National Weather Service in Duluth predicted up to a half-inch of rain beginning late Saturday into Sunday, with a smaller chance of isolated thunderstorms.
Carol Christenson, a meteorologist in that office, said it appeared there was a good chance of even more substantial rain Tuesday and Wednesday. "It appears the dry cycle that characterized the first several weeks of the fire is past," she said.
Anderson said some firefighters had left by Friday morning, leaving about 500 to fight the blaze.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack toured the fire damage by air Friday and attended a briefing at the ranger station in Ely.
Klobuchar suggested it was worth considering residents' complaints that the Forest Service waited too long to begin actively fighting the fire.
It was about 11 days from the start of the fire until crews began serious efforts to fight it, following Forest Service forest management practice. "Maybe that decision should have been made earlier, to start containing the fire," Klobuchar told WCCO-TV.
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 Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011.
View Pagami Creek fire in a larger map
(MPR editor Nancy Lebens and reporter Tom Robertson contributed to this report.)