I thought I would share a few more photos from yesterday’s storm.
Today, Friday of Memorial Weekend, Josh had a make-up baseball game in Soudan, MN. Soudan is just outside of Ely, MN. The game was scheduled for 4pm so that meant leaving Grand Marais by 1pm to make it there in time. The sky in Grand Marais was partly cloudy and 55 degrees when we left. As we drove inland it got warmer and sunnier and by the time we made it to Ely it was 75 and sunny.
We could see a storm cloud in the distance as we drove towards Soudan. By the time we made it to the field it was drizzling rain. Within a few minutes it was pouring down rain with lightning. Thirty minutes later the field was wet with a few puddles around the bases but the storm had passed.
The other team decided to cancel the game. Needless to say, the ten or more parents who had spent the past three hours driving were not happy.
Every cloud has a silver lining and in this case the silver lining was a rainbow.
5/25 business as usual?
Some of you have asked how Voyageur is after the Ham Lake Fire. A wildfire is an amazing force with a mind of its own. It is unpredictable and relies on many variables to determine how and where it will burn. Many times a structure will survive the initial flashover only to burn much later due to sometimes preventable circumstances.
Fire Wise is a program that was implemented on the Gunflint Trail after the blowdown in 1999. Their mission is to identify areas of risk to wildfires and to develop strategies to reduce that risk. Assessments were made on properties, a grant for sprinkler systems was available and information was distributed in order to help protect homes in case of a wildfire on the Gunflint Trail. Many existing homeowners and cabin owners took advantage of one or all of these opportunities and made their property Fire Wise.
Some people did as much as they could to make sure their property would survive a wildfire. They cleared trees on and around their structures, they kept their gutters and roofs free of debris, they stored their firewood away from their cabin, installed sprinkler systems and followed the FireWise protocol to a tee. Other property owners wanted to keep the northwoods charm of their cabin in tact. They left branches overhanging their roofs and driveways, they didn’t prune their bushes and trees or close in their soffit or fascia, they used wood siding, left down dead wood near their structures and didn’t install a sprinkler system. Some people did a little of this and a little of that and got lucky and others did not.
As a member of the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department we saw first hand how being FireWise helped protect structures. If a sprinkler system was installed properly and was fully functional for an adequate duration of time then the structure most likely survived. If a property had an open area under their cabin where sparks or the fire could crawl then it most likely burned down. Some people did everything right and their cabin still burned down others did everything wrong and got lucky.
On a plane ride the other day I was able to take a photo of our place to show you how the fire made it’s way around Voyageur. The property across the river was luckily untouched. On the lodge side of the Seagull River you can see how far the sprinklers reached. Our neighbor to the South or on the right side of the photo had sprinklers running. Our canoes and four employee cabins did not have sprinkler systems running on them. The area around the cabins was not cleared, the cabins were open underneath and the soffit and faschia were not finished; all four of them burned.
As owners of Voyageur we did a few things right and were very lucky. When the fire roared over our place we lost four employee cabins, Don and Marilyn’s storage shed and its contents, Theresa’s belongings and some other replaceable items. No lives were lost and no one was severely injured. We’re so sorry for those who lost their property and belongings and so very thankful to still have ours.
Yesteday the road block at the Cross River was removed and once again traffic was allowed to travel to the end of the Gunflint Trail. Members of the Gunflint Trail Association and the community at large gathered together to celebrate the re-opening.
Some Gunflint Trail Association members have been focusing on the re-growth of the Gunflint Trail and we applaud their efforts. Yesterday, after the ribbon was cut, people gathered at the Blankenburg Landing on Seagull Lake to plant some trees. They will also be planting trees this Memorial Weekend and have put together some information and resources for homeowners in an effort to make sure the proper species are planted in our delicate area. We are so grateful to these people for keeping such a careful eye on our woods.
While most people were excited at yesterday’s ribbon cutting I had mixed feelings. I wasn’t really celebrating but mentally taking a note of what the Road Block meant to me and possibly others who fought the fire first hand.
This road block at the Cross River wasn’t the only one during the Ham Lake Fire. I don’t mean there were other physical barriers that kept us off of the Trail, that there were, but the road blocks many of us met each day, hour or minute of the fire. The road blocks that were thrown in front of us on that Sunday when the fire raced towards the homes and properties at the end of the Gunflint Trail.
I still think about those road blocks every day; the properties without water access, sprinkler systems that didn’t work and the cabins that weren’t easily accessible with a fire truck. Other road blocks such as homeowners not wanting to evacuate, not enough resources for the extent of the fire and the unpredictable walls of flames. Where was it safe? How could we stop it? What to do, when to go, what to take and where to go during the evacuation. These were just a few of the road blocks we were faced with, just on the first day of the fire.
If only we could have taken a scissors and cut a ribbon to eliminate all of those road blocks we were met with…
Voyageur after the fire
May 21 100% contained
The Ham Lake Fire was officially contained on the U.S. side at 6:00 PM on Saturday, May 19, 2007. At that time overall containment of the fire was 65% but I’m sure it is more now. There are still over 200 people managing the fire on the U.S. side and almost 300 on the Canadian side. By the end of the week these numbers will be considerably less as crews are being demobilized daily. Since the numbers have dropped the Base Camp Concessionaire who was providing meals for the fire personnell has left and now meals are being provided at Voyageur. Don, Mike, Theresa, Ian and Sheri have been working non-stop getting things all set up at Voyageur for meals as well as our regular guests.
Marilyn is still at the Voyageur Outpost in Grand Marais answering telephone calls, getting mail, reserving permits and taking care of Voyageur paperwork. She and Lanie are the two refugees left stranded in town. We’re not sure when she will return to Voyageur since we don’t have mail service and without a phone line it will be difficult to function. The land line may not be up for 4-6 weeks so we are unsure what we will do about faxes, credit card purchases, fishing licenses, reservations, etc.
A good friend of ours, Chad Jones, has installed a “Yagi Antenna” on our roof so we can use one cell phone from our location. A Verizon wireless tower was put up for communications during the fire and then moved to the end of the Trail. This was suppose to enable us to use cell phones from our home/business but we only receive one bar, not good enough to hold conversations. We’re hoping they will make some improvements so we can have better cell coverage without driving up to the tower to talk.
Yesterday was a difficult day for me. I wanted to get things unpacked and put away but at the same time I was afraid to do so. Even though the threat of fire and evacuation were highly unlikely I still couldn’t help thinking, “What if?” I haven’t collected all of my photo albums and treasures from the Gunflint Pines yet either, maybe today. It’s such a resltess feeling and I hope it goes away soon.
More good news
The USFS has decided to re-open the lakes at the end of the Gunflint Trail on May 22nd. This is also the same day non-residents will be allowed past the roadblock at Gunflint Narrows Road. Due to campsite rehabilitation the Larch Creek and Magnetic Lake entry points into the Granite River will be closed until further notice.
This is good news for everyone who loves to spend Memorial Weekend on the Gunflint Trail. We are happy to have a confirmed date for the reopening of both the road block and the entry points into the Boundary Waters. We are excited to get the season started and welcome back our paddling and resort guests.
I had the opportunity to go on a float plane ride the other day and was pleasantly suprised by what I saw. Last year I flew over the September East Zone Complex fire area and couldn’t believe how much smoke and flames there still was after all of the fire crews went home. I thought I would see something similar this year but much to my amazement I only saw two puffs of smoke. They were both right next to each other in a completely burned area causing absolutely no threat to anything around them.
The view from the plane was similar to that of other forest fires where the landscape resembles a mosaic. Some of the valleys are green, the hillsides light brown and other places are black. It isn’t just all black scorched earth like one may imagine. There are varying degrees of burn intensity depending upon how hot the fire was and how fast the fire went through the area. It’s comforting to see it from the sky and know there is still so much green on the Gunflint Trail and the surrounding area.
We are so grateful and thankful to everyone who has offered us their love and support over the past couple of weeks. I know we will not remember to thank each and every one of you personally and we apologize. The kind gestures, words of encouragement, acts of kindness and reassuring smiles on faces have made life much easier for us and we really appreciate it. The support of our family, friends, guests, neighbors, community members, blog readers and everyone else has been incredible and we are lucky to have you all behind us. Many of you have offered your help and we may just take you up on it now that we are home. We thank you all from the bottom of our hearts and knowing we have all of you caring for us is the best news ever.
May 19 Home
We haven’t been this happy since the 4th of May. The Sheriff’s Department decided to let the residents of the end of the Gunflint Trail go home today. Good thing too because we were prepared to cover our kids with blankets in the backseat and smuggle them through the roadblock so we could all sleep in our own beds again. I’m just thankful we didn’t have to break the law to do it. So now we are all together, at the end of the Trail, in our home.
We didn’t make the drive home together in one vehicle since Abby had spent last night in town. Mike took Josh up and then later Abby and I drove up together. Mike told me when they got home Josh said, “It isn’t as bad as I thought.” Abby must have said the word, “WOW!” a hundred times during our ride home.
Abby was taking everything in as we drove the last 10 miles of the Gunflint Trail. She first made a comment about something being ugly and I told her I would not allow her to say that or to be negative about the impact the fire had on our woods. After that she switched to positive mode and I think it made us both feel better. She pointed out the already inch high grass growing in the ditches, the marsh marigolds blooming and all of the other flowers starting to come up in the burn areas. When she noticed empty spaces where cabins used to sit she said, “At least they can build a new place if they want.” She commented on how much easier it would be to get up to a favorite high spot because of the lack of underbrush that had burned. She marveled about being able to now see Onagon Lake from the Gunflint Trail. Her words were words I have been saying over and over to myself and it was good to hear them from her mouth.
Once we were all at home together it didn’t take the kids long to get back into a routine. “Mom, Josh is bugging me!” “Yeah but Abby is being mean.” Once again the parents are the referee in the game of life and thankfully we’re the home team playing on a home court.
Advantage Voyageur and things are looking up.
Many of the residents of the Gunflint Trail that were evacuated are now back at home. They are busy getting settled back in and for the business owners it’s back to business as usual. After all, it is the Canadian fishing opener this weekend and Memorial Weekend next week. The weather is typical for this time of year; cold, misty and a thermometer reading of 37 degrees. As a cold rain that sometimes turns white falls to the ground the Ham Lake Fire seems like something from our imagination, but unfortunately it was all too real.
Two weeks ago today the Ham Lake Fire started from a campfire ring on
Ham Lake . It quickly threatened Tuscarora Lodge and Outfitters and everyone was so pleased when all of their buildings except for an old shed were saved. No one could have imagined the horror it would create the next day and the many thereafter.
While the threat of the Ham Lake Fire is basically over the memory of it all is fresh in my mind. The 6th of May 2007 will not be one I will ever forget. The wall of flames devouring the trees as we hurriedly evacuated people and assembled sprinkler systems is not a picture that will be erased from my memory. The sound of trees crackling and burning, the roar of the fire, and the occasional propane tank exploding are sounds I can’t get out of my head. The fear and panic of the possibility of forgetting to evacuate someone or the chaotic attempt to locate all responders is heavy in my chest still today. Not knowing if my home and business will survive, if Don our Manager would be ok, if our friends on the GTVFD would be all right or if I would ever see Mike again is not something I want to worry about again.
The Ham Lake Fire is two weeks old today and it’s old news. The television crews are gone and the story is no longer front page news, if news at all. The Public Meetings are done, the meal service for evacuees is over and the Evacuation Center at the Community Center in town will close at 5 pm today. The adrenaline is gone and the excitement is over. Sharon Baker, Shari ’s mother-in-law, summed it up this morning when she asked, “When are you going to go home?”
Two weeks tomorrow is how many days we have been away from home. Two weeks is a long time under these conditions and we’re more than anxious to go home. Officials have been discussing Tuesday as the next big day… The day the roadblock may be lifted, the day the entry points at the end of the Gunflint Trail may be re-opened and maybe the day the Quetico Park will open as well, we’ll keep our fingers crossed.
The Ham Lake Fire has kept us on the edge of our seats. The Type I Team is turning the incident over to a Type II Team tomorrow. There has been very little fire activity the past couple of days so some crews are busy rolling up the over 90 miles of hose that has been laid. There are still almost 700 people working on the fire and the cost of the fire is around 8 million dollars. The Ham Lake Fire consumed 3.7 million dollars of value for the 138 buildings lost making it the 4th worst fire in the history of Minnesota . It is also the 4th fire we have experienced since moving to the Gunflint Trail; Sag Corridor in 1995, Alpine Lake in 2005, Cavity Lake and the East Zone Complex in 2006.
I’m hoping the Ham Lake Fire will be the only fire for 2007 for us folks on the Gunflint Trail and I wouldn’t mind if it was the last one I ever experience.
The expected containment date of the Ham Lake Fire is May 20th so it should come as no surprise the US Forest Service will open many of the Gunflint Trail Entry Points on this day as well. The USFS expects to have all entry points re-opened by the 14tth of June or earlier.
If the entry point you have chosen is closed during your date of travel then we can reserve an alternate entry point for your trip. We can even outfit your group and if there is still a road block we have a number of neighboring “competitors” who have offered to let us use their facility for our guests. We hope to be able to accomodate all of our paddling groups with as little inconvenience as possible. We are anxious to get the outfitting season started and we’d love to see everyone up here this summer.
We are not sure when Saganaga will be open. It depends upon the fire activity. Right now things are looking good on Sag and ground crews are making lots of progress. If this continues then we’ll be back on Sag before we know it. We are sorry for the uncertainty of an exact date but we’ll keep you posted as soon as we know.
We really appreciate how understanding all of our guests have been. We haven’t been able to take as many phone calls, return as many calls or get to our e-mail as quickly as we like and we are sorry. We are thankful for your patience and your concern for our well-being. We look forward to the upcoming season and seeing you on the Gunflint Trail.