All not lost on Gunflint Trail

In many areas along the Gunflint the fire has only touched part of the landscape, leaving a mosaic of black and green.
MPR Photo/Bob Kelleher

Officials had worried about the winds Monday, but as it turned out, rain Sunday night provided enough benefit to offset whatever damage Monday's winds could do.

District Ranger Mark Van Every was able to report Monday morning that rainfall varied from a tenth of an inch in the fire zone, to half an inch just south of the fire.

"The good news about that is it does reduce the fire behavior. It allows the firefighters to go more direct on the fire and put some line in right close to where the active perimeter is. And we'll be doing as much of that as we can," he said.

Charred corner
Some areas are badly burned, with trees snapped in half after the fire passed through.
MPR Photo/Bob Kelleher

Things remained damp with cloudy skies on Monday. That's the kind of weather that helps suppress wildfire. Only a few hot spots were noted across the fire zone. But Van Every says the same storms could have stirred new trouble. There were plenty of lightning strikes across the region.

"We have equipment to allow us to map that, from a computer, where those lightning strikes hit. And we will be patrolling that by air, several times a day for the next several days. And we anticipate we're going to get some new starts. So, not only the folks that are working on this fire are going to be busy, but we've had both here, and in Ely and in other places on the forest, we've had people that have been on standby for the last several days in anticipation of new starts. And I think those folks are going to be real busy, maybe not today, but possibly tomorrow or the next," according to Van Every.

The Ham Lake fire is now more than a week old. It's burned almost 75,000 acres and taken 133 buildings, including 61 residences. As the fire drags on, residents wonder what the summer has in store.

Larry Schei owns a home on Loon Lake, a place that's twice been saved from the charging fire. Schei wonders about the coming season, with an intense drought that's gripped much of the forest above Lake Superior.

"It'll be a long summer," he said. "If it misses us, then somebody else. Right now, there's some fires down at Two Harbors from lightning. So maybe those folks will have to go through what we are going through now. It's a major event in Minnesota."

This patch of forest along the Gunflint Trail is charred, but with water flowing through the middle there are still signs of life.
MPR Photo/Bob Kelleher

The lifeblood of this region is tourism. One resort is reported burned; others have lost out-buildings. However, there's a lot of forest that isn't burned. Even within the fire zone, the forest can be something of a patchwork. But the people who visit these resorts are largely from Minnesota, and they're all hearing that the region's on fire; that the forests are gone.

Bob Baker Sr., has a place on Gunflint Lake. His son owns the Gunflint Pines resort next door.

"My biggest concern is not only for my son's business, but the businesses on the Gunflint Trail," he said. "The message that I've been trying to get out is that the Gunflint Trail did not burn. It was part of the forest. And there are some businesses up here that are really going to need some help, or they're going to need people to come up and book a vacation or come up for a weekend or whatever."

Baker believes the attributes that have always attracted people to the Gunflint region are still here.

"Yes, there's some black forest up here, but the bottom line is the lakes are all here. The fish are still here. You know you can have a mixed experience. You can witness what's left after the fire, both good and bad. You can witness the black, but there's still going to be a lot green when we get back up here," he said.

Residents like Bob Baker and Larry Schei will have to wait a bit longer before they can revisit there properties near the fire. The sheriff's department had hoped to let residents up in a couple of days to at least see what their properties look like. But Chief Deputy Leif Lunde said Monday that logistics were difficult, and there may not be any chance to get up there before late this week, if then.

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