Fire in the BWCA
At the top of the page on the Wildfire Information Updates there is a box that says, "Fire Quick Facts." The first fact is, "The fire was initially spotted by Forest Service air detection on July 14th at 3:30 p.m." It goes on to say, "It was a small lightening caused wildfire, 1 mile southeast of Cavity Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area." The third fact says, "Current Size estimated at 15,000 acres, completely within the BWCAW in heavy blowdown timber." Some people are wondering how a small fire could become what is now estimated at as a 16,000 acre fire. Questions arise at public meetings like, How come the planes aren’t flying and dropping water? When is the fire going to be contained? Why isn’t there anyone fighting the fire on the ground? Where is the Gunflint Volunteer Fire Department? Is it safe to come up to my cabin?
Some of these questions are answered easily while others are more difficult to answer. We live in a wilderness area and wildfires are a part of the wilderness. Wildfire activity is for the most part unpredictable. There are specialists that can make good, educated guesses based on past fire behavior, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. Mother Nature and what she chooses to have the weather do on each particular day is what determines the fire behavior. The Cavity Lake Fire will do as it pleases when it decides to without asking for permission or forgiveness afterward. It can burn slowly in an area that has been treated by a prescribed burn or it can shoot flames up to 50 feet into the sky in an area of heavy blowdown. It can even back up into the wind as it did yesterday by traveling 1/2 of a mile North against a North wind. The Cavity Lake Fire is in a remote, wilderness area that isn’t accessible by road. It wasn’t even accessible by foot when it started due to the difficult terrain created by the blowdown. The fire isn’t in a neat circle with perfectly round edges and it isn’t in a square as the USFS would like it to be. When it is in a neat shape it is much easier to fight the perimeter of the fire. This fire has fingers reaching out and extending to the North and to the South which causes the perimeter of the fire to be much larger. When the USFS takes a plane up to check out the perimeter on a normal fire it maybe takes 10 minutes, with this fire it takes almost a half of an hour. Now imagine yourself trying to determine where the best point would be to fight this fire. Is it on the North end to stop it from reaching Canada? Maybe the Southeast edge so it doesn’t make it to Round Lake and Tuscarora Lodge? How about the East side so it doesn’t jump the Gunflint Trail? And my favorite option, what about the Northeast edge so it doesn’t burn us out? These are the challenges facing the USFS and everyone who is involved in fighting this fire. I think I would look at it like a familiar AA Slogan, "One Day at a Time." What is the wind going to do today? Where can we make the most difference in how big this fire is going to get? Today the wind will be coming from the Southwest at 5-10 mph with gusts of about 15 mph. Tomorrow the wind is predicted to be stronger and from the same direction. Today the USFS will work on the Northeast edge so the fire doesn’t travel out of the wilderness and into the Seagull Lake area and all of the properties at the end of the Gunflint Trail. Keeping people safe is the number one priority. This includes not only the safety of the Public but also the safety of the fire personnel. The USFS will not send in ground crews when the fire behavior could injure or kill someone. They won’t send planes up if there is a downward wind. The Cook County Sheriff won’t send the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department in for the same reason, Public Safety. The GTVFD is on reserve to assist with the evacuation process in case the Gunflint Trail needs to be evacuated. The reason we didn’t have much air attack power on the second day of the fire is also because of Public Safety.
There are other fires burning not only in the BWCA, but also in Minnesota and other parts of the United States and there are only so many resources available. Priority will always be keeping the most people safe, and guess what? We live in a wilderness area. This is the end of the Gunflint Trail, we’re 56 miles from the nearest town, surrounded by the Superior National Forest, and currently there is a wildfire burning. The USFS is doing everything possible to keep people here and their property relatively safe with the resources they currently have available to them. How long will the fire burn? When will the Cavity Lake Fire be out for good? Your guess is as good as mine but I know one thing, when I strap on my cross-country skis to hit the trails in January and there’s 5 feet of snow on the ground the Cavity Lake Fire will be dead out. Until then, I’ll do my best to keep you up to date on what is happening at the end of the Gunflint Trail.