BWCA First Fire of the 2007

-- Last Updated: May-06-07 1:50 PM EST --

Well, we have our first fire of the year in the BWCA. It started near or on Ham Lake, and as of last night was at 1600 acres.

They issued mandatory evac orders for the Gunflint from the Narrows north. The narrows are near the Cross River. This is pretty close to the fires from last year.

It's so dry up here and the wind has been strong the last two days that we are in explosive fire conditions.

So, if you were planning on tripping up the Gunflint in the next week, you may want to reconsider those plans and stay further south or head up the Arrowhead.

Here's the report:

Ham Lake Fire (2007-05-05)

At about 11:30 Saturday morning, fire and smoke were reported in the Round Lake area near the Gunflint Trail (20 miles NE of Grand Marais) in northeastern Minnesota. U.S. Forest Service aerial reconnaissance located the fire to be coming from the Northwest area of Ham Lake. The fire was being driven in a Northwest direction by strong winds from the Southeast at 20-gusting-to-39 mph.

As the fire was advancing toward Round Lake, the Tuscarora Lodge was evacuated. The local Fire Department is doing structure protection at the Lodge, one small shed was lost to the fire. An additional 5 homes were threatened.

At 3:00 PM the fire was estimated to be about 2 ½ miles long by 3/8 of a mile wide, roughly 600 acres in size. Aerial resources from the local area, Northern Minnesota, and Canada were on the scene this afternoon, as well as contract dozers, and the Gunflint Trail Fire Department. Immediate efforts were directed to save life and property South of the Gunflint Trail and Northeast of Round Lake.

With the present high fire danger expected to continue, the following additional resources have been ordered: one Incident Management Team, one strike team of engines, two 20-person crews, one investigation unit, and two type six engines and one type one helicopter.

The Weather service in Duluth has issued a fire weather watch for northern Lake and Cook counties from Sunday morning through Sunday evening. It will be dry, windy and warm on Sunday, factors that could create the potential for severe wildfire conditions.

First Trip…
…I took in '84 we came out on the Cross River. Saw my first bull moose in Cross Bay Lake. Hope they get it under control. With the magnitude of the blowdown, I feared that the following decade would include several fires as we have seen. WW

It’s getting big
It’s at about 16,000 acres now and still growing. They’ve brought in a Level 1 fire management team. From news reports it looks like the whole upper Gunflint Trail is pretty devastated. A friend who is married to a firefighter told me today that her husband said it will be a huge shock to anyone who has been up there before.

They’re saying it’s 5% contained at this point. Here’s the place where the fire can be tracked:

Many entry points are now closed.

Restricted Fire Zone
in Northwest Ontario too.

Its bone dry, which seems like such an oddity at this time of the year.

Fire danger here is extreme too but that is because of winds and the lack of shade(leaf out hasnt happened yet)

Ham Lake Fire
There were reports last night of some ash falling in Grand Marais - almost an hour’s drive away from the fire.

The fire has moved into Canada as well.

Fire Ban
I talked with an outfitter in Ely today. The entire BWCA and into Ontario is under a strict fire ban. No rain is a huge problem all over the area. It was 82 degrees in Ely this morning and the trees have not yet budded out. THis is the rainy period of the year and weather seems like August! Sounds pretty bad to me.


Well, it’s gotten big. It’s over 30,000 acres now. Today, Grand Marais and Grand Portage were engulfed in smoke. It was hard to breath and ash was falling from the sky. The sunset was surreal and in the afternoon the sky was a weird pink/yellow.

From Pincushion Mnt., I could see the pillar of smoke rising higher than the cumulus clouds.

Tonight, at Sven and Oles I heard that the fire had jumped across Gunflint Lake and back into the US. The wind is currently gusting towards GM at 30 mph.

I have some pictures of what it looked like in GM this afternoon on my photo blog at:

Almost all the BWCA entry points on this side are closed. Here’s the list:

40 - Homer Lake

41 - Brule Lake

43 - Bower Trout Lake

44 - Ram Lake

45 - Morgan Lake

47 - Lizz and Swamp

48 - Meeds

49 - Skipper and Portage

50 - Cross Bay (already closed)

51 - Missing Link (already closed)

52 - Brant Lake (already closed)

54 - Seagull (already closed)

54A - Seagull Only (already closed)

55 - Saganaga Lake (already closed)

55A - Saganaga Only (already closed)

56 - Kekekabic Trail (east of Disappointment Lake) - already closed

57 - Magnetic (already closed)

58 - South Lake Trail

59 - Partridge Lake Trail

60 - Duncan

61 - Daniels

62 - Clearwater

64 - East Bearskin

66 - Crocodile River

68 - Pine Lake

69 - John Lake

70 - From Canada

79 - Eagle Mountain Trail

82 - Border Route Trail Center

83 - Border Route Trail - East

Day Use Motor:

J - Saganaga Lake

K - Seagull Lake

L - Clearwater Lake

M - East Bearskin Lake

55,000 acres as of 10pm tonight.

Sounds Like…
…a place I dearly love will be forever changed. Sounds like the mid-trail section is next if the wind is blowing back towards GM. I hope Ted and Barbara at Poplar Creek and Dave & Nancy at HJO remain unscathed and I hope the weather cooperates soon. Thanks for the link to your blog. Hope to get up there for a trip (and an Uff-da-zah at Sven 'n Ole’s) later this year. WW

The latest map
The latest map is here:

Yesterdays jump wasn’t huge, we’ll learn more tonight.

Jumped Gunflint?
From the map it looks like the Granite River corridor is pretty much burned, huh? Looks like it jumped Gunflint between Little Gunflint and Bridal Veil Falls? Nature rebounds, though, thankfully. Unfortunately, in MY lifetime it will never be the same BWCAW that I roamed arround in frequently in the '80’s and '90’s. WW

Some Good News
We’ve had a couple of “good” news days now. Yesterday, fire growth was small and the cooler temps today were also good for the small growth.

They lifted evac orders off of portions of the Gunflint and it sounds like the northwest section of the fire has been in good shape.

Winds are expected to pick up on Sunday to 15 mph and gusting above that from the South. Not a good sign for the Canadian side.

An interesting note is that buildings with sprinkler systems installed tended to come out better than those without. Or in other words, sprinklers work. We’re up to 134 structures lost and the county accessors are putting damage at 3.7 million, but I have to believe that that is way way low. I could believe 37 million. On a very sad note, Wilderness Canoe Base lost somewhere around 35 buildings. Photos here:

Down by the Lake today, we could see the clouds of smoke heading out over the lake. They were between Cascade State Park and Grand Marais. On the horizon, it looks like a thin layer of smoke all across Superior. And one of the bizarre recent reportings from a couple of days ago is a newspaper in Winona reported being under smoke from the BWCA fire.

Sunday is another day and we’ll see what happens.

Hey Brian, any update on the fire. I thought the news said the western part may get a little rain. I hope so anyway. I sure hope they get thing under control.


They just finished the public info meeting. The fire is now just under 60,000 acres. This means that it hasn’t grown like it did in the first couple of day.

We had a little rain yesterday. Town got a lot more than the Gunflint Trail. They had about 1/10th of an inch. We may have gotten 1/4 to 1/2.

They were able to do some burnouts yesterday, which should help protect structures back across the Gunflint Lake and towards Poplar. Loon Lake is still a big concern. A little further away from the fire at North and South Lake, they completely some more controlled burns or something to help protect lands to the east. As far as unchecked growth of the fire, yesterday, it was to the west and in Canada.

They are also reporting 20% containment at this point.

Today, a front will push through the area, hopefully, with rain. But winds are expected to be strong and changing directions. The trees are really shaking in town right now and Superior looks rough, so it’s probably windy up by the fire.

Interesting is the international cooperation in this fire. It’s a good thing.

Update 5-15

– Last Updated: May-16-07 11:15 AM EST –

Just under 76,000 acres. Up to 166 building burned. The weather today was great for fighting fires. It drizzled all day. The fire is now 25% contained overall, and it's 55% contained on the US side.

It's interesting that most of the damage so far has been on private land in the US and the rest is in Canada. Not very much of the Wilderness has been burnt with the exception of the Granite River.

Projected containment date is May 20th! Some of the entry points may open up on May 19th!

Two blogs with good info:
Tuscarora Outfitters and Voyageur Outfitters. Tuscarora fared well, so far. Voyageur lost all of their crew cabins, lots of gear, and I think the kevlar canoes that burned were theirs.

They are asking that people NOT cancel trips before checking with the outfitters and DNR because much of the area is ok. They desperately need the business. If you aren’t using an outfitter, check your route carefully because some campsites were totally burned.

I’m glad someone posted something about this fire. Thanks, bryan.

More Good News
It’s been a good couple of days for firefighting in the US. Ontario now has 4 big fires spread around, including one near Thunder Bay. But it sounds like the firefighters are really getting a handle on the Ham Lake Fire.

I’m just going to post their description, and unless something goes crazy, this will be my last post.

If you don’t want to read all of this, here is the important part for paddlers: Reservations are now being accepted by ReserveAmerica for BWCAW trips starting May 20 into many of the BWCAW entry points. The Superior NF anticipates that all BWCAW entry points will be opened by June 14 or earlier…

Close coordination continues between the American operation (managed by Broyles’ Type 1 National Incident Management Team, or “IMT”) and the Canadian IMT headed by Dave Manol. There was no growth in the fire perimeter on the U.S. side, and direct suppression tactics continue to be effective. Crews are mopping up all hot spots within 100 feet of containment lines, and within 300 feet of all structures. On the northwest flank, crews are patrolling the Saganaga Lake islands. Progress continues toward projected containment, with advancements made on the southeast finger of the fire, as well as the western flank. Four high-priority large fires in Ontario have stretched Canadian resources. A large fire east of Thunder Bay has threatened the province’s main railroad line, the trans-Canada Highway, hydroelectric utilities and the natural gas

transmission corridors. Currently, Ontario has an estimated 230 firefighters engaged on the Ham Lake Fire, including three American “Hot Shot” crews (two from Alaska and one from Arizona). Ontario also has a fire ban in place. On the American side, Incident Commander, Paul Broyles expressed appreciation for all of the cooperation and support from the community and partners involved in the fire suppression effort. He noted Arrowhead Rural Electric Association’s hard work to restore power to the area.

Acres burned: 75,851 acres. 36,443 acres in the United States; 39,408 acres in Canada. Containment is now estimated at 35% for the entire fire; U.S. estimated at 65%. Projected containment date: May 20, 2007

Resources on the Fire/Costs

Crews: 36 (17 Canadian) Helicopters: 12 (10 Canadian) Engines: 40 Water tenders: 3 Dozers: 5 Available upon Demand: Medium Air Tankers 3 Heavy Air tankers – 2 Personnel: 979 (194 Canadian) Costs: $7,372,568. Figures are current as of 1700 May 16, 2007.

Closures and restrictions

As a result of decreased fire activity and successful suppression operations, the areas of Superior NF lands outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness are now open to public use except the areas north and

west of the Cross River roadblock on the Gunflint Trail. East Bearskin and Flour Lake Campgrounds are open. Reservations are now being accepted by ReserveAmerica for BWCAW trips starting May 20 into many of the BWCAW entry points. The Superior NF anticipates that all BWCAW entry points will be opened by June 14 or earlier, depending on fire conditions. For a complete listing of sites that remain closed refer to Access is now open to the Gunflint and Loon Lakes areas. Water access onto Gunflint Lake is prohibited due to aircraft traffic associated with fire suppression efforts. Fire restrictions are in effect for Cook, Lake and St. Louis counties. Under these restrictions the following are prohibited: recreational fires (except gas and propane fired camp stoves and grills), welding, acetylene torches, or other devices with open flames.

Incident plans for tomorrow

Crews will continue securing fire containment lines on islands in Saganaga Lake on the northwest flank of the fire. They will also be reinforcing containment lines north of Francis Lake to Little Gunflint Lake on the east flank of the fire finger. Elsewhere, the primary focus will be structural protection and mop-up. Falling snags continue to be a safety concern on all flanks being worked by fire crews. Canadian crews will continue constructing direct lines above Horseshoe Island, and from Southeast Bay of Northern Lights Lake to the road north of Melvin Lake. They will also be constructing containment lines from Little Gunflint Lake to the ridge south of Beulah Lake, and providing structure protection on Red Pine Island. Weather permitting, a burnout is planned for the area north of Burnside Lake.

Thanks Bryan
Bryan, looks like things are getting better. I appreciate your continued updates. I sure hope the area gets the rain the so desperately need.


Most Restrictions Lifted
Pretty much all restrictions have been lifted.