BWCA Forest Fire Rages On

What started nearly a month ago by a lightening strike in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota has escalated in the last week to one of the most devastating fires in Minnesota history.  Smoldering in the remote north for nearly a month before gusting winds aided in the rapid spread of the fire, over 100,000 acres of pristine wilderness have been reduced to ashes.

Nearly 500 fire fighters from all over North America have converged on Ely Minnesota to help battle the blaze.  Navigating rugged portages and paddling canoes loaded down with equipment, they were able to meet the fire head on yesterday for the first time.  With back-up from the air and calmer conditions fighting at the fire line was possible, but none of the perimeter has been classified as "contained" at this point.  Populated areas on the edges of the BWCA have been growing more and more concerned and nearly 200 residents of Isabella, MN have abandoned their homes.  

Smoke plumes could be seen from great distances, and has made for incredible sunsets for much of the upper Midwest.  Many of the entry points to the BWCA have been closed to visitors and campfires have been banned within the park, limiting campers to portable stoves for cooking purposes.

Exceptionally dry conditions and a wealth of natural fuel keep the blaze fully fed.  The fast and erratic nature of the fire is only expected to increase should it reach the "blow-down" area left by a windstorm in 1999 that affected nearly 40% of the BWCA.  Should the fire reach it, officials are concerned that there may be little they can do to control its progress.  Thousands of acres of downed mature trees, drying for over a decade,  create conditions that are simply too perfect.  Forestry service personnel have performed controlled fires over that time, with roughly 16% of the blow down area cleared, but that will hardly slow this blaze down.

The fire yet again revitalizes the conversation about the benefits the forest receives from a cleansing like this. My only concern is that if the BWCA is vastly charred, the increased traffic on the untouched areas will skyrocket, doing untold damage of its own.  We need some rain.  A little help from Mother Nature would go a long way at this point.  We thank all the fire fighters for their efforts and hope they stay safe.

I will keep you posted as more information becomes available.

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