Fires in Boundary Waters prompt campfire ban, some BWCA closures

An aerial view of a wildfire
The Delta fire burns in the Superior National Forest east of Ely, Minn., on Wednesday.
Timo Rova | UDSA Forest Service

Updated: July 10, 5:30 p.m.

Forest Service officials have temporarily banned campfires in the Superior National Forest — including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness — and closed some lakes and access points, as crews monitor four wildfires.

Drought conditions have caused increased fire danger across the region — and lightning from thunderstorms earlier this week appears to have sparked at least some of the latest fires.

As of Saturday afternoon the largest of the fires was the Delta Lake fire, located south of Snowbank Lake about 19 miles east of Ely. Officials estimated it at 62 acres in size and believe it was caused by lightning.

It's burning in an area with a lot of downed trees from a 2016 storm, as well as balsam fir trees killed by spruce budworm.

"The Delta (Lake) fire is burning in heavy blowdown, and it's very difficult conditions for our firefighters and resources to work with," said public information officer Christine Kolinski with the Superior National Forest. "They're having to use chainsaws to cut out safety zones (for firefighters) to put a line around the fire and try to contain it."

More than 50 firefighters were working on the fire as of Saturday, assisted by a helicopter dropping water on the flames.

Crews are also monitoring:

  • The Astray fire, about an acre in size and located east of Clear Lake, about 11 miles east of Ely. It's also believed to be caused by lightning. Crews made good progress on containing the fire and were set to return on Sunday; in the meantime it’s being monitored from the air.

  • The Picketts Lake fire, about 1/10 of an acre in size and located south of Picketts Lake about 4 miles northeast of Ely — also believed to be caused by lightning. Crews were doing mop-up at this fire on Saturday.

  • The Hassel fire is located west of Crab Lake about 14 miles northwest of Ely. That fire was originally reported June 4 and was being monitored with an increase in fire activity reported on Thursday; it’s about 21 acres in size but only about a half-acre was new fire activity. Crews were doing mop-up at this fire on Saturday.

Campfires are banned in the BWCA, and paddlers and hikers will need to carefully use camp stoves. Elsewhere in the Superior National Forest, campfires are allowed only in Forest Service-installed fire structures in developed fee campgrounds.

In addition, the Forest Service has closed a number of lakes, campsites and portages near the fires:

  • Parent

  • Disappointment

  • Jitterbug

  • Ahsub

  • Becoosin

  • Benezie

  • Adventure

  • Rifle

  • Bridge

  • Fire

  • Drag Primitive Management Area

And it's also closed two entry points as of Friday evening: No. 56 Kekekabic Trail East and No. 74 Kekekabic Trail West/Snowbank.

Kolinski said campers planning a trip to the Boundary Waters should check ahead for current fire conditions.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is reporting high or very high wildfire danger across most of northern Minnesota.

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