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Storms bring needed rain to northern Minnesota - but also spark new wildfire

Jul 25, 2021 06:07AM ● By Editor
Wildland firefighting crews conduct mop-up work on the Delta Lake fire east of Ely, Minn., earlier this month.  Eastern Area Type 2 Incident Management Team | Photo: Courtesy Superior National Forest

Strong thunderstorms dropped much-needed rain on northern Minnesota's Superior National Forest late Friday and early Saturday.

But the rain wasn't enough to break the ongoing drought conditions — and the storms also brought lightning that sparked at least one new wildfire.

"So the rain — yes, it helps, we need it. But we need more to really bring us out of the drought," said Joanna Gilkeson, Superior National Forest public affairs specialist. "And with the storms bringing lightning ... we're seeing a little more fire activity."

The Friday evening storms caused major damage at the Blueberry/Art Festival in Ely and elsewhere around the region. Gilkeson said crews were out surveying for storm damage in the National Forest on Saturday. 

"At least preliminarily, it's looking good. We are not seeing as much blowdown and as many downed trees as we thought we would," Gilkeson said at midday Saturday.

The new lightning-sparked fire — called the Phantom Creek fire — is located west of Ely and was estimated at less than an acre in size. A helicopter was set to drop water on the fire on Saturday.

About five miles to the west, near Lake Vermilion, the Bear Creek fire was estimated at seven acres on Saturday, up from two acres the previous day. The fire, first reported Thursday, "experienced some growth last night thanks to heavy winds," National Forest officials reported Saturday. "Helicopters, with water dropping capability, have been working the fire for nearly two days supporting the personnel on the ground."

And the 62-acre Delta Lake fire about 20 miles east of Ely is now 80 percent contained. 

"An infrared flight flew over the fire (Friday)," authorities reported. "This helped crews conducting mop-up operations focus on any interior pockets of heat that remain. The recent rain has moderated fire behavior."

The fire is contained to the point where the Forest Service has lifted a Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness closure orderthat had been issued near the Delta Lake fire.

But a larger closure order remains in place north of Ely, due to fires burning in just across the international border in Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park.

That closure order affects 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.

The three large fires in Quetico closest to the border had burned a combined 15,000 acres as of Saturday.

Authorities reported Saturday that aerial assessment of the Quetico fires showed little movement. There still are concerns the fires — which have been burning largely unchecked — could spread into the BWCA, which is why Superior National Forest officials issued the closure order.

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.

A return to lower humidity and warm temperatures is in the forecast. A campfire ban remains in effect for all of the Superior National Forest amid the ongoing drought conditions.

To see the original report and read related stories, follow this link to the MPR News website.

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