Forest Service lifts one BWCA closure order; other parts of wilderness remain closed

A sign warns drivers of wildfire activity in the area
A sign warns drivers of wildfire activity in the area along State Highway 1 near Ely, Minn., in July.
Eastern Area Incident Management Team | Courtesy Superior National Forest

Superior National Forest officials are lifting one of the closure orders in effect for parts of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

As of Saturday, the closure order related to the Delta Lake fire east of Ely will no longer be in effect.

A much larger BWCA closure order remains in effect north of Ely because of ongoing concerns about wildfires burning in Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park, just across the Canadian border.

And a campfire ban remains in effect for all of the Superior National Forest amid the ongoing drought conditions.

Delta Lake fire

The Delta Lake BWCA closure order had been in effect since July 9 and barred visitors from using two entry points — No. 56 Kekekabic Trail East and No. 74 Kekekabic Trail West / Snowbank.

It also closed campsites and portages around 10 lakes: Parent, Disappointment, Jitterbug, Ahsub, Becoosin, Benezie, Adventure, Rifle, Bridge and Fire.

In a news release Friday evening, Forest Service officials said they're confident the more than 200 firefighters working on the 62-acre Delta Lake fire have contained it.

Wildland firefighters walk down a trail
Wildland firefighting crews traverse a trail they cut through dead and downed timber to access the Delta Lake fire east of Ely, Minn., on the week of July 12.
Pennsylvania Type 2IA Crew | Courtesy Superior National Forest

"We're so grateful for the firefighters and the Type 2 Team who came from across the country to help us respond to the Delta Lake fire and other fires in the West Zone Complex. Although we are confident that Delta Lake fire containment line is secure, this isn't the end of the fire season. The drought continues and the fires are still active in Canada," Superior National Forest Supervisor Connie Cummins said in the news release.

"I want to thank our visitors for working with our wilderness rangers, clearing the closure area and understanding that this decision was made for safety reasons. I’m happy that we can announce the end of the Delta Lake fire closure and that people can get back to enjoying this part of the wilderness," Cummins said.

Over more than two weeks, working in downed timber waist- to chest-high in places, crews working on the Delta Lake fire have established a four-mile hose line and are working to douse any remaining hot spots. Officially, containment was listed at 60 percent as of Friday morning.

Crews responded to two new, small wildfires on Thursday — one south of Ely that was quickly suppressed. Forest officials said the other is a 2-acre fire northeast of Lake Vermilion. Aircraft dropped water on that fire on Thursday, and ground crews were set to hike to the fire on Friday.

Quetico Provincial Park fires

U.S. firefighting crews continued to work along the Canadian border Friday to monitor and plan for wildfires threatening to cross into the Boundary Waters from the north.

They're scouting for potential control lines, if the fires in Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park spread.

U.S. and Canadian agencies are coordinating efforts, but Ontario hasn't directed many resources to the Quetico fires. Its crews have been focused on larger fires to the north that are threatening communities.

But U.S. authorities said firefighting aircraft from Ontario did make several water drops on Thursday on the fires right along the border, near Crooked Lake.

A closure order remains in effect for more than a dozen BWCA entry points north and northwest of Ely, as well as the lakes, campsites, portages and trails they serve.

That closure area stretches east nearly to Basswood Lake, west nearly to Crane Lake and south to the Echo Trail.

Rangers have been staffing the closed entry points to let visitors know about the closure, and they continue to sweep lakes in the affected area.

The closure order is a precaution to keep people out of harm's way in case the fires do spread, given the amount of time required to paddle or hike to safety.

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