Ham Lake Fire May 14, 2007

  It looks like the people of Grand Marais are good dancers, better than the ones on the Gunflint Trail.  I checked the weather station at Seagull and it looks like we only received .08″ of rain last night while town appeared to get much more.  I just hope the lightening wasn’t as active in the parts of the forest that didn’t get rain. 

     Today will be another test day.  The temperatures cooled off over the night and the humidity is high with the winds currently out of the east.  While the early winds are from the east they are expected to shift to the west and then northwest throughout the day.  The forecast is also calling for more rain, lightening, thunderstorms and even hail.  We shall see how kind Mother Nature really is. 

     The area of concern for firefighters today will be the area around Loon, Birch and possibly Poplar depending upon what the wind does.  Firefighters have worked on hotspots in these areas; they have dug some firelines, turned sprinkler systems on and backburned to create a fireline.  We are  hoping for favorable weather to help in this effort. 

     I can’t thank everyone enough for their help throughout the fire.  So many people have offered so many things to help us out during this chaotic time.  The favors come in all sizes and are all so appreciated.  We thank our friends, family and people we probably don’t even know for the outpouring of community support.  

Grand Marais, Lutsen Tofte and even Silver Bay is here.  Whoever I am forgetting, thank you very much.  It’s nice to see familiar faces out on the fire lines.  

     The area of containment of the fire is growing.  I can’t remember the specifics at this time but I think it was around 20%?  This is due in large part to the fire activity that cleaned up and secured the entire north shore of Gunflint Lake .  There are also areas that have been contained near Round
Lake and Tuscarora.  This is good progress and we pray for more black lines(representing contained areas on the map) real soon. 

     We’re still not sure when we will be able to go home.  No power and no phones but hopefully soon.  We had our 3rd employee arrive for the season yesterday and we’re still not sure where they will be staying when we do return to Voyageur.  All four of the crew cabins and the belongings burned to the ground. 

     There hasn’t been any confirmed information about the Canadian side of Saganaga.  I know there are fire crews heading out by boat so I will attempt to find out some facts today.  I think our employee Ian will be heading out there with boat loads of firefighters so he should be able to get a good look at where the fire activity was. 

     It is still a shock to drive through the burned areas.  We drove up to Voyageur for a propane run yesterday and my heart ached.  The cabins that are missing, the trees that are scorched and the memories attached to all of my favorite places in the woods are heavy on my heart.  I do consider us all lucky and can’t believe we were able to get people evacuated without any deaths.  The roads to some of those cabins are a long ways back and I know a number of firefighters risked their lives numerous times on that scary Sunday.  Some of those firefighters feel guilty wishing and thinking they may or should have been able to do more.  My response to those people has been, “Sure, if you wanted to die you may have been able to save one more cabin.” 

     It’s a strange thing to feel so responsible for everything that has happened or that may happen.  I think firefighters forget they are not God and carry the guilt and responsibility of every loss on their shoulders.  It’s a heavy weight to carry that can easily drag you down.  Please consider this if you are tempted to question anyone’s actions during this fire. 

     I have heard the question, “How are you?”, so many times.  This isn’t an easy question to answer for any of us involved in this tragedy.  I think I can speak for most of us.  When we’re doing something to aggressively fight the fire then we’re all ok.  If we’re busy organizing crews, spraying water, or looking for smoke, then we’re ok.  But if you give us any time to let our minds think about it, then we’re not.  

     I came to town last night to spend Mother’s Day with my kids.  I was stopped at a roadblock for a prescribed burn and by the time I got to them they were in bed.  I didn’t feel like talking to Marilyn, Sheri, Ian or Theresa, I just felt like crawling in between my kids on an air mattress and going to bed.  So that is what I did. 

Today is a new day but I still don’t feel like talking to people who aren’t up working on the fire.  I don’t know why that is.  I feel the urgent need to be back on the Gunflint Trail doing whatever I can do to prepare for today.  I was anxious all night long, worried about what was going on up there.  I have been wanting to wake my kids up to start the day early so I can head up Trail again.  It’s a restless feeling that I just can’t shake. 

So, if you happen to see me or any of the people involved with this incident then please have patience with us.  We’re tired, frustrated, nervous, and on the edge from the Ham Lake Fire.  Keep this in mind if we aren’t ourselves and please don’t take it personally.  We’re doing the best we can, one day at a time.     

May 14th Part 2

I did receive confirmation from a reliable source that the Ham Lake Fire has been active on
Saganaga Lake in both Minnesota and Canada .  The fire is reported to have been burning actively on Horseshoe Island , Connor’s Island, Red Pine Island, the island to the north of Red Pine  and possibly on Camper’s Island .  A number of campsites and one structure have been burned by the fire on Saganaga.

     The reports about evacuating people from Saganaga appear to be true as well as the rumor about people staying behind.   Seven Americans were evacuated on Sunday and it sounds like Irv Benson and the folks at Sagonto remained to help set up sprinklers and try to save properties.  The cloud cover, high humidity and wind from the north hopefully helped fire crews to keep the fire from spreading farther.  I hope to get out and see what is happening first hand tomorrow.  

     The Type I Team in charge of the Ham Lake Fire is getting more and more confident each day.  More of the perimeter of the fire is getting secured each day with 50% of the U.S. perimeter secured and 20% of the overall fire contained.  The threat to private property is less and less each day.  The progress being made is great but it is scary to see our support crews leaving the area.  We sure hope we won’t need to call them back.  

     Power has been restored at Voyageur, now if they will just let us return home.  We’re so grateful to have a home to return to as many people have lost theirs, 61 residences so far and a total of 133 structures.  It’s such a tragedy to see these places destroyed by fire knowing the people and their losses make it so much harder.  The total acres burned are 74,814 with 36,433 in the U.S. and 38,371 in Canada. 

     In case you didn’t know it, all entry points into the Boundary Waters via the Gunflint Trail have been closed through the 19th of May.  In addition to the entry points all campgrounds and hiking trails have been closed as well as most boat landings and forest areas accessed from the Gunflint Trail.  For a complete list of closures you can visit this website.  It definitely isn’t business as usual on the Gunflint Trail. 

     What does this mean to Voyageur and the other businesses on the Gunflint Trail?  I don’t know, I haven’t had time to think about it.  We’ve been too busy with the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department to even think about it.  We are grateful to have Marilyn in Grand Marais answering phone calls and taking care of e-mail.  

     The good thing about the Ham Lake Fire is very little of the Boundary Waters has burned.  This means awesome canoe trips into the wilderness for our guests.  It also means an awesome adventure up to the end of the Gunflint Trail to get a first hand view at forest fire.  We do not know when the USFS will open the entry points to the BWCA or when the Gunflint Trail itself will be safe for travel, estimated containment date is the 20th of May.  We do know we want to see you at Voyageur this summer.  If it isn’t in May or June then we hope you will visit us later in the summer or fall.  

     The forecast is calling for rain and we hope the weather predictors are right.  We would be very happy to be confident the Ham Lake Fire is contained.  Please keep the Gunflint Trail in your thoughts and your prayers.

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