Forest Service ignites fire near Fourtown Lake

Fire crews here for long haul

The U.S. Forest Service used aerial ignition to limit the growth of a fire between Fourtown and Boot Lakes. The fire started from a lightning strike on July 25. It grew from a quarter acre to 20 acres overnight. On July 27, ping pong balls filled with glycerin were dropped from a helicopter to burn the fire to natural barriers. The balls ignite 25-30 seconds after being released from the helicopter. Once they hit the ground, they quickly ignite the vegetation on the ground. The fire ended up being 225 acres. “I do think it went pretty well in the short window we had to work with,” said Kawishiwi Ranger Aaron Kania.
The U.S. Forest Service has been busy with a number of fires including the Delta Fire at the end of the Fernberg.
As of Thursday afternoon, Delta was 92 percent contained with no smoke detected. There were already reports of plants starting to grow where the fire burned.
A fire on Fourtown Lake was fought with fire (see page one).
The 10-acre Bear Creek Fire is located north of Mud Creek Road. The 3.5-acre Phantom Creek Fire is north of Wolf Lake Road, on the east side of Lake Vermilion. Both fires are within the BWCA. Fire crews have laid hose lines around the firmly established perimeter.
Other Superior West Zone Fires:
The Sundial South Fire, detected on July 21, still shows smoke and is currently being monitored, though not staffed. This area is particularly inaccessible to fire crews due to the remote location and hazardous fuels.
Two new fires were recently discovered: The Ima Fire is approximately five miles west of Snowbank, and the Slowfoot Fire is located one mile southeast of the Delta Fire.
Two firefighters were in-place yesterday to assess the Ima Fire. The Slowfoot Fire will be continuously monitored, but not staffed. Any new starts in these areas will be fully suppressed by available initial attack provided by the team and local resources.
Canada Fires:
The Quetico Provincial Park has several fires burning north of the international border from the BWCAW. Three of the fires have the potential to spread across the border into areas near Crooked and Iron Lakes.
The Forest Service continues to monitor and assess these fires daily.
Air Operations:
Two Fire Bosses (fixed-wing aircraft) are committed to the Forest Service to perform water drops as needed. Flying drones over the fire is prohibited. Air operations will stop if drones are detected in the area.
Closures:
There are closures in place on the Kawishiwi and LaCroix Ranger Districts adjacent to the Canadian border in BWCAW. For details, visit the Superior National Forest webpage at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/alerts/superior/alerts-notices. The Superior National Forest continues to evaluate the closure areas to determine next steps. The closures will be in place until fires in the region are controlled and pose no imminent threat to visitors.
Due to dry conditions, fire activity, and limited resources, the Superior National Forest has prohibited campfires in the forest and the BWCAW. Propane devices with with an on/off switch are permitted, including lanterns, stoves and firepits. Campfires are NOT allowed at any BWCAW campsites, backcountry campsites, or rustic campgrounds, even in designated fire rings or grates.

Fire crews here for long haul
by Tom Coombe
U.S. Forest Service officials reported progress on one front and concern on another in the agency’s efforts to contain forest fires near Ely.
And, it appears the virtual army of fire crews in the area will be here awhile.
Those were the key takeaways as Forest Service officials convened a public meeting Wednesday to address their work on containing both the Delta Lake fire as well as at least three other fires that have broken out in Canada, near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Forest Supervisor Connie Cummins said “we’re feeling pretty good about where we’re at” in the efforts to suppress the Delta Lake fire, a blaze that has resulted in several BWCAW entry point closures.
But Stewart Turner, long-term fire analyst for the Forest Service, cautioned that “one big worry is the Canadian fires.”
“Those still have the potential to stand up, cross the border and threaten the wilderness area,” said Turner. “I think they’re going to last a good long time and not go away.”
As a result, fire crews will be working on those fires “until the end of fire season.”
Turner said that could mean through the end of September or “dare I say middle of October.”
Fire crews from across the country have been in the Ely area since earlier in the month, and the economic impact has already been immense.
According to agency data, the Forest Service has already spent $4 million on the Delta Fire and has turned Vermilion Community College into a temporary headquarters.
The fire suppression effort has focused on multiple fronts and has hinged on several factors.
Turner said topography, fuels and weather help determine strategies to contain the fires and Mother Nature has complicated matters with a bone-dry summer.
“We’re in a record setting drought right now,” said Turner.
Prospects of some rain during the weekend were welcomed.
“Now we have some moisture coming in,” said Turner.
“We’re well away from the end of fire season,” he added. “There’s a long season yet of wetting and drying. Most of the fires in this area will spread on very dry days, and that’s a rare occurrence. ”
Operations manager Keith Murphy detailed the efforts that have been taken to contain the Delta Lake fire.
“There’s a lot of heavy timber, folks had to cut their way through,” said Murphy. “We were able to get hand crews in there. It went well securing the perimeter of the fire. We’re shooting for 100 foot depth all the way around the Delta Lake fire. It’s going to be a challenger. We need a lot more rain so we can put the Delta fire to bed.”
During the containment effort, the Forest Service “started looking at the closest structures” and established a structure protection group - eyeing Kawishiwi Lodge and Wilderness Lodge on Snowbank Lake.
“We were prepared” said Turner. “Hopefully with the rain forecast in the next few days some areas we can pull back out of.”
The agency is focusing more attention now on the Canadian fires.’
“There’s so much fire up there you have to plan for it,” said Turner. “Those have the potential to make moves down to the U.S. mainland.”
He added that work would likely continue “until the snow flies.”
Cummins addressed entry point closures.
“We know putting closures in place can impact our visitors, and the businesses associated with those visitors,” she said.
It takes two-to-three days to orderly move people out of closed areas, and the Forest Service’s John Pierce said five-to-eight groups of two-person crews went into the wilderness to “make contact with visitors and inform them where the closures are.”
“We sent them on these missions and stayed in touch with them daily,” said Pierce. “They made contact with whomever they saw.”
Pierce said that those with questions about closures are encouraged either to contact the district office or look at the Forest Service’s website. The Superior National Forest has also provided regular updates on its Facebook page during the recent fires.
Cummins said the progress on the Delta Lake fire provides some optimism as the agency continues to evaluate the various closures.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to make a decision soon to lift that closure around the Delta Lake fire,” said Cummins.
Dewey Johnson, emergency management coordinator for St. Louis County, has worked with the Forest Service and said plans assembled now could be used again for future fires.
“There are no evacuations currently and we’re not looking at anything imminent,” said Johnson.
Johnson added that public notification measures vary, ranging from using local radio station WELY to going door-to-door with the county rescue squad if necessary.
Another tool is the capability to contact every cell phone in an area defined by emergency officials.
“The 911 dispatcher can define an area on a map and push a message out to every cell phone in the area,” said Johnson. “It’s similar to an Amber Alert.”