Crews mopping up North Shore fires that caused closure of Highway 61

Fire crews were back out Sunday to monitor and mop up hot spots from a series of wildfires along the North Shore that closed a stretch of State Highway 61 on Saturday.

The Minnesota Interagency Fire Center reported that the fires burned about 45 acres. Air tankers and helicopters scooped water from Lake Superior to drop on the flames Saturday, while Minnesota Department of Natural Resources crews and six local fire departments battled the fires on the ground.

Highway 61 was closed for several hours Saturday afternoon and early evening northeast of Silver Bay, near Tettegouche State Park. The cause of the fires remains under investigation.

Drivers traveling on Highway 61 on Sunday are asked to use caution and slow down if they pass firefighting crews. The interagency fire center said it wasn't expecting fixed-wing firefighting aircraft to be used to handle hot spots on Sunday, but helicopters may be called in.

The North Shore fires were just the latest in a series of wildfires across Minnesota so far this spring, including one that burned nearly 13,000 acres near Mentor, Minn., last week and was reported 95 percent contained as of Thursday.

While winds this weekend were considerably less gusty than what Minnesota saw earlier last week, conditions remained very dry across the state. The National Weather Service in Duluth reported Sunday afternoon that the relative humidity had dropped below 20 percent in some locations.

“Every spring, we see a rise in wildfire activity as the snowpack melts and leaves behind dry vegetation like grasses, leaves, and needles,” Leanne Langeberg, public information officer with the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center, said in a news release. “We left last fall in abnormally dry conditions in Northeast Minnesota. Snow totals were less than normal, and lack of measurable precipitation has left us in a persistent dry pattern.”

Rain is in the forecast for the week ahead across much of Minnesota; find more details on MPR Weather's Updraft blog.

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