Greenwood Fire containment growing

Authorities report 37 percent containment; some evacuees return

by Tom Coombe
What a difference a week - and some rain - can make.
Aided both by rain and an army of firefighters, and with assists from loggers, the Greenwood Fire is now 37 percent contained and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is reopening to visitors.
Officials reported significant progress Tuesday at a public meeting in Finland, just eight days after the fire mushroomed to a point where fire crews were forced to retreat and nearly 300 properties were evacuated.
“We do have a lot of good things to report on the progress of the Greenwood Fire,” said incident commander Brian Pisarek.
Pisarek reported “big advancements,” including an end of overnight shifts and that some property owners, who had been evacuated, were able to return to their properties.
According to Lake County Sheriff Carey Johnson, about 60 properties have been cleared for repopulation and “the goal is let everyone back in Thursday and Friday and open things back again.”
On Wednesday, moderate weather helped firefighters make progress with finding hot spots and putting out smoke near the containment line, while heavy equipment operators continued improvements on the Stony River Grade Road,which serves as the primary eastern containment line.
A weekend boost from Mother Nature helped mightily as fire crews battled the blaze.
“We had a real good day when we got almost two inches of precipitation on the fire,” said Pisarek.
Highway 2 remains closed from Forest Hwy. 11 to Hwy. 1, and portions of Hwy. 1 are closes as well, from New Tomahawk Road to the Lakinen Road.
Johnson said that Highway 2 may be the first to reopen, and then east of the Highway 1 and 2 intersection.
A total of 476 personnel are now working on the fire, down from earlier totals.
As of Sept. 1 the total costs for the Greenwood Fire were calculated as $11,517,710, up from $8 million a week before.
Wednesday also marked a transition as Pisarek’s Eastern Incident Response Team ceded management to Northern Rockies Team 1.
“Our teams are limited to 14 day assignments,” said Pisarek.
Pisarek added it’s possible his crew could “circle around” to the area.
Officials said Wednesday that the fire could be completely under control by Oct. 10.
Pisarek ended his fourth pubic briefing by thanking Johnson, Forest Service personnel and local fire crews and vendors who aided during the last two weeks.
“It’s really nice to come into this area with the warm welcome we had, the cooperators were outstanding,” he said. “Bringing 500 people into a small town like this, all the vendors stood right up and said ‘here you go.’ That was really great.”
The fire, which was caused by lightning and started Aug. 15, is approximately 15 miles southwest of Isabella.
The Ely and Babbitt areas ace no threat, although many Fall Lake Township residents erroneously received evacuation notices over the weekend of Aug. 21-22.
While Ely faces no imminent danger, the affects of the fire could be seen in the sky, particularly on the morning of Aug. 26, as thick smoke prompted air quality alerts.
Many Ely area businesses have also taken a severe hit as a result of the closure of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The fire destroyed 12 homes and cabins in the McDougal Lake area as well as 57 outbuildings during a fire surge Aug. 23.
That’s when fire crews were forced to retreat and authorities served 160 evacuation notices.
Late last week, Johnson, Pisarek and the U.S. Forest Service Supervisor Connie Cummins were among those who briefed Gov. Tim Walz, and U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith in a virtual meeting.