Cooler weather, rain showers aid crews working to contain Minnesota wildfires

An area of forest that has been burned by a wildfire.
A burned out area of forest seen on Monday in the Superior National Forest near Lake County Highway 2 and the Jackpot Trail OHV trailhead south of Isabella.
Clint Austin | Duluth News Tribune

Updated: Sept. 6, 2:30 p.m. | Posted: Sept. 5, 7 p.m.

Fire crews working to contain wildfires burning in northeast Minnesota were aided by cool temperatures and scattered rain showers over the weekend.

As of Sunday the Greenwood Fire burning west of Isabella remained at just over 26,000 acres and 37 percent contained.

A group of people stand near some trees
Framed by the boots of wildland firefighters U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (from left), U.S. Sen. Tina Smith and Gov. Tim Walz listen to firefighters talk about fighting the Greenwood Fire on Monday.
Clint Austin | Duluth News Tribune

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Tina Smith and Gov. Tim Walz visited Isabella and spoke to officials fighting the fires on Monday.

Klobuchar thanked firefighters and said she spoke to the head of the Superior National Forest about preventing future fires.

"Moving into next year, we already know the fall is going to be dry,” said Klobuchar. “So there's a lot of risks. But we also know there's some things we can do with forest management."

She said the forest service already does this and wants to do more, but they need the resources.

“The other thing is that Sen. Smith and I are going back to Washington, and on the agenda will be something called the reconciliation bill, which at this point includes over $40 billion for fire and forest management,” she said.

Crews working on the north and west perimeter of the Greenwood Fire on Saturday "began hauling out fire hose and other equipment, as the threat to structures was reduced," officials said Sunday.

Meanwhile efforts to build fire lines on the south and east sides of the fire continue. And crews were watching for gusty winds in the forecast.

“Thanks to favorable weather and fire efforts, the threat to cabins, homes, and recreational sites in the area is greatly diminished,” according to a Sunday update from the team managing the fire.

More than 400 firefighters are working on the fire.

The lightning-caused Greenwood Fire has burned 14 homes and cabins and several dozen other structures since it was first spotted Aug. 15.

While some residents along and near Lake County Highway 2 have been allowed through checkpoints to visit their properties, about 200 homes and cabins remain evacuated due to the fire.

Lake County officials sent out an update Sunday stating that additional "security pass cards" will be issued to primary residential homeowners along State Highway 1 in the Isabella restricted fire area starting Monday, and to seasonal cabin owners along Highway 1 on Wednesday. The McDougal Lake area will remain closed for now.

BWCA fires

Meanwhile the two largest fires burning within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness also remained quiet over the weekend.

The John Ek Fire is about 1,350 acres, and the nearby Whelp Fire is about 50 acres. Both were zero percent contained as of Monday morning.

Crews working on the John Ek Fire "completed the contingency lines they have worked on the last several days, widening and clearing portages and setting up sprinkler systems," officials reported Monday.

Structure protection crews are still assessing damage and removing debris on the south side of the Gunflint Trail.

Similar work is being done near the Whelp fire, with crews completing a contingency line on the south side of the fire Sunday, and expanding that work Monday. The efforts are aimed at creating defensible lines in case the fires spread.

“Precipitation over the fire area (Sunday), combined with moderating conditions and lighter winds, should keep fire spread in check,” fire officials reported Monday morning.

Parts of the BWCA and the Superior National Forest closest to the fires, including along the upper Gunflint Trail, remain closed to visitors.

But most of the wilderness reopened to visitors this weekend after being closed for two weeks.

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