Ham Fire May 17, 2007

Lost a Day

I’m not sure how it happened, but I lost a day somewhere.  I didn’t sleep it away either.  I can’t even remember what I did yesterday, but somehow I forgot to put an entry into my blog.  Strange.  I know I went to town and spent time with the kids in school, but I can’t remember what else I did.  Oh well.  Here it is Thursday, I apologize for not writing until now.

Some people have been able to go home to their places on the Gunflint Trail.  We were not some of those people.  If you live beyond Gunflint Narrows Road like us, then you are still an evacuee.  Marilyn and our faithful employees are still in Grand Marais since we can’t go home yet.  It’s kind of strange that the meal service provided by the community for the evacuees will be ending tomorrow when we don’t even know when we will get to go home.  We’re hoping it is soon.

Living the life of a refugee doesn’t sit well with me or with Josh.  He’s 5 and he’s having a difficult time with not being able to go home.  He misses his toys, his books and he really wants to go fishing.  He and Abby have been staying in town with relatives and our staff but tonight he had enough.  He started to cry when Mike and I were going to head back up to the Gunflint Pines.  He told me he was afraid the fire burned our house, it broke my heart.  I can handle myself being upset but not my little boy.  I really want to be able to go home and have things return to somewhat of a normal life.

I know even when we return home it won’t be too normal.  Our Walleye Wranglers who have been fishing with us every year for the Canadian Opener will not be able to come this weekend.  We will miss seeing them at Voyageur and hearing about all of the fish they usually catch.

Our phone service provider says it may be 4-6 weeks before we have regular service at the end of the Gunflint Trail again.  We don’t know if our friends at Superior North are planning to rebuild or if they will just close their doors. Some of our other neighbors who have been so important in our lives are without cabins and won’t be living next to us anymore.  Things will not be the same.

It’s hard to imagine a raging fire barreling over our home and business.  It’s a miracle those wildfire sprinkler systems can create such a bubble around the property so that it doesn’t burn.  It’s amazing to see how just beyond the reach of the sprinkler the earth has been charred.  It’s strange how a person can lose track of a day.

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Ham Fire May 16th, 2007

During the Ham Lake Fire I somehow lost a day and this was the day that was lost. I had actually posted twice the day before and must have thought I had posted one each day!

 

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Ham Lake Fire May 15th 2007

It’s hard to imagine a fire that started on Ham Lake traveled all of the way to Saganaga, but it did.  We know that because we have seen one of the many paths of destruction, the end of the Gunflint Trail.  We keep re-playing the events of that Sunday in our minds, hoping for a different outcome.  I keep thinking I will wake up from this nightmare only to be amazed at how life-like it was.  The alarm clock can go off any time now.

Last night I was visiting a cemetery searching for a grave stone of a friend of mine who died in High School.  I was having a difficult time reading the headstones when suddenly I saw something out of the corner of my eye.  Sure enough, the grass on the hillside of the cemetery had started on fire.  I looked for equipment to put it out and finally found a bucket and some water.  I threw the water at the fire only to have it ignite as if I had thrown gasoline on it.  The person I was with said, “That’s an oil fire, you can’t put it out with water, it will just make it spread.”  Then I began my frantic search for baking powder to put out the kitchen oil that was on fire at the cemetery, far away from any kitchen.  My alarm clock did go off then and I woke up.  I’m waiting for the second alarm to go off.

I took a boat ride out to Saganaga today to survey the scene.  As I had said before fire had burned in places on the east side of the channel going out to Saganaga.  It is spotty until the fire reached James Bay where it appeared to have burned hot.  Farther north on Camper’s Island the northern tip of the island was scorched as well as one of the 7 Sisters Islands on the way to Canada.  The shoreline was burned in places as we headed toward Sag Falls.  Some of the islands and campsites were burned as well as Conner’s Island.  We made our way back toward Red Pine Island that had suffered some burning too.  Unfortunately this is where we found the charred remains of our friend’s property.  What another tragedy.  So far Sagonto, Chippewa Inn and Irv’s place are all ok, with changing winds it may be a different story for properties on Saganaga, we will continue to say our prayers.

Today’s weather is favorable.  The winds are light, the humidity high and it has been drizzling all day long.  This is letting crews get in to really get some work done and we are very thankful to Mother Nature.  If all goes well today and tomorrow then people who own property at the end of the Trail will be allowed to re-enter the area for a brief visit to their property.  There will be a short safety meeting at 11:30 AM on Thursday the 17th of May and then one vehicle per property will be allowed to head up the Gunflint Trail to survey their dwellings.  All people will need to check in and out at Fire Hall #1 or the road block and they must be out by 4:00 PM.  I’m hoping maybe some of the Canadian homeowners coud get to their property too.  We shall see.

I can’t keep my eyes open any longer so I’m going to try to take a nap.  Hopefully when I wake up I will realize this has all been a bad dream.

 


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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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Ham Lake Fire May 13th, 2007

I apologize to all of my Canadian neighbors for not keeping up on what the Ham Lake Fire is doing up there.  After the fire raged through Sag Lake Trail it jumped the narrows and started burning on the East side of the narrows.  It then continued eastward toward the Granite River near Maraboeuf and spotted some to the north.  The wind has been changing directions constantly and the fire made a major run along the entire northern side of Gunflint Lake the other night.  It also spotted farther to the north of Gunflint and to the south of Saganaga.  I heard today Horseshoe Island was burning but it hasn’t been confirmed.  I also heard some people were being evacuated from Saganaga via helicopters and planes.  I do not know if this is true but the wind has been pushing Southeast today and it very well could be up on the Canadian side of Saganaga.  There has been black smoke surrounding us for the past week so it is hard to tell just where all of the fires are burning.  I will update the blog when I know more for sure.

Things are going ok today for yet another Red Flag Warning Day on the Gunflint Trail.  So far we haven’t had to evacuate anyone so let’s keep outrfingers crossed.  Crews are working hard at changing propane on sprinkler systems, putting up more systems, and trying to keep ahead of the 25 mph gusts of wind that tend to send sparks flying far ahead of the fire.

It’s time to ask Mother Nature for a favor and ask her to bring us some rain.

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Ham Fire May 12, 2007

This entry was actually a second entry on one of the days. It describes in more detail what happened on the 6th of May and into the 7th.

the next day

Anyone who has been following my blog knows the rest of the story.  Mike and the other fire fighters were able to flee the end of the Gunflint Trail without being trapped.  They fought as hard and as long as they could, but it was a battle they could have never won.  They drove away from the fire down the Gunflint Trail feeling defeated and with a sense of loss like no other.

As the sun went down that night we watched the flames of the fire glowing to the north of Gunflint Lake.  We listened to the wind howl all night long, never letting down and we feared the worst.  We heard reports at the briefing in the morning that our lodge was still standing, but others were not as lucky.

On our road, Sag Lake Trail, many of our dear friends and neighbors lost their cabins.  Long time residents of the Gunflint Trail, Frank and Pat Shunn’s home was destroyed.  Cabins that have been around for years were no longer standing.  Around 20 structures in all were lost on Sag Lake Trail, the majority of them cabins.  In their place were charred remains; bed springs, appliances, nails and ash.

Our friends Earl and Anita Cypher, owners of Superior North Outfitters, lost their outfitting building and bunks but their store was spared.  We lost four cabins that were used to house employees and one cabin held all of Theresa’s belongings inside.  Kevlar canoes were melted and Don and Marilyn’s storage shed burned to the ground.  The fire spread and consumed the whole end of the Gunflint Trail.

The landscape has changed.  Things will not ever look the same.  Things will be different in our end of the world.  But different isn’t always necessarily bad.  The forest will green up as soon as it rains and plants will break through the ash.  New growth will occur and the animals remain.  Yesterday we saw mallards in a charred pond, a moose walking on our road, two deer trotting across the Trail and a grouse, all on Sag Lake Trail.  Cabins can be re-built and buildings replaced, but again, lives cannot.

Today is a new day on the Gunflint Trail.  The fire has increased to around 22,000 acres and will no doubt become larger today.  Southwest winds with gusts up to 12-17 miles per hour and temperatures in the 80’s will get the fire cooking.  There will be another prescribed burn today on the north side of Gunflint Lake to keep the fire from spreading too far to the south causing Gunflint Lake homeowners to evacuate.

We are praying and hoping today goes well.  We are thankful to have a place to stay, food to eat, and friends to help us out.  The kids are having fun with their sleep-overs at Baker’s but the novelty of it is beginning to wear off.  They are anxious to return to their beds, their toys and their home.

I wish I could tell them when we could go home.  We still don’t have electricity or phone and with the fire only 5% contained, it isn’t safe.  I showed them pictures of the destruction and explained whose cabins were gone and whose cabins remained.  I told them forest fire is good for the forest and it will look better soon.   I also told them that it doesn’t matter where we live or what we have as long as we have each other.

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Ham Fire May 11, 2007

We experienced another evacuation of the Gunflint Trail.  Marilyn, Ian, Theresa, Abby, Josh and our animals are all safe in Grand Marais.  The community of Grand Marais has been remarkable during this entire event.  The firefighters are doing everything they can to save lives and structures on the Gunflint Trail.

You can reach Voyageur by calling 218-3×0-1xx2 for the time being.  Marilyn will be calling guests with trips booked this week.  It will not be a normal fishing opener this year.

Yesterday the fire made a major run.  It traveled the entire Canadian side of the Gunflint Trail and then south to Mayhew Lake and crossed the Gunflint Trail.  It was a very scary day.

There will be photos available soon at http://www.fire.boreal.org/hamlake so be sure to check it out.  For more fire information visit http://www.boreal.org there are a number of links to follow with information.

Mike, Don and I are still actively helping with the fire fighting efforts and evacuation of the Gunflint Trail.  We all spent the night in our vehicles, Mike and I at Fire Hall number 2 without electricity or telephone service.  It’s been a long week, but we’re hanging in there.

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Ham Lake Fire May 10, 2007

Weather Forecast and Evacuation-

Current time: May 10, 2007 – 7:01 CDT Most Recent Observations at May 10, 2007 – 6:04 CDT 6:04

The current temperature at the Seagull Guard Station is 63 degrees.  Dew Point is 43.5, Humidity 49%, Wind Speed 5 mph from the West, Wind Gusts at 9 mph.

FIRE WEATHER PLANNING FORECAST FOR NE MINNESOTA AND NW WISCONSIN
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DULUTH MN
433 AM CDT THU MAY 10 2007

…RED FLAG WARNING IN EFFECT FOR NORTHEAST MINNESOTA TODAY…

.DISCUSSION…
A COLD FRONT IS APPROACHING NORTHEAST MINNESOTA TODAY. INCREASINGSOUTHWEST WINDS WILL CAUSE TEMPERATURES TO RISE TO THE LOW TO MID 80S ACROSS MOST OF THE AREA. VERY LOW RELATIVE HUMIDITIES IN THE MID TO UPPER TEENS WILL PREVENT ANY SHOWERS FROM FORMING ALONG THE FRONT…WITH A FEW THUNDERSTORMS SOUTH OF ROUTE 2. WITH THE AIR BEING SO DRY…THERE IS A DANGER OF DRY LIGHTNING AND ABRUPTLY STRONG GUSTS TO 50 MPH WITH SOME OF THESE STORMS. BEHIND THE FRONT…COOLING ALOFT WILL CAUSE WEST…THEN NORTHWEST WINDS TO STRENGTHEN TO 30 MPH WITH SOME GUSTS EVENTUALLY REACHING 40 MPH AS THE AFTERNOON WEARS ON. OVERNIGHT…WINDS WILL BECOME ONSHORE AND IN THE 10 TO 20 MPH RANGE AS TEMPERATURES WILL REMAIN IN THE LOW TO MID 60S ACROSS NORTHEAST MINNESOTA ON FRIDAY. HUMIDITIES WILL RETURN
TO THE LOW TO MID 20S FRIDAY AFTERNOON. LIGHT AND SPOTTY RAIN…
ASSOCIATED WITH IOWA LOW PRESSURE…MAY MOVE INTO THE AREA FRIDAY.

THE COOL AND VERY DRY ONSHORE FLOW WILL KEEP TEMPERATURES IN THE 60S SATURDAY. A WARM FRONT SHOULD LIFT HUMIDITIES AND MAY BRING SOME SPOTTY RAIN SUNDAY…WITH A TROUGH EXPECTED TO MOVE THROUGH MONDAY. ANOTHER HUDSON BAY HIGH WILL RETURN THE AREA TO VERY DRYWEATHER…PLENTY OF SUNSHINE…AND BRISK…GUSTY ONSHORE WINDS TUESDAY AND FOR MUCH OF THE COMING WEEK.

Also on the 10th– mandatory evacuation

Be advised, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department has issued a mandatory evacuation from South Gunflint Lake Road to County Road 92.  This includes, but may not be limited to, South Gunflint Lake Road, Mile O Pine, North Loon Lake Road, Tucker Lake Road, South Loon Lake Road/Loon Lake Lodge Road.  For your safety, please evacuate immediately.

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Ham Lake Fire May 9, 2007

Whack a Mole!

This is my all time favorite carnival game.  You know the one, the mole pops his head up out of a hole and then you try to whack it with a rubber mallet? That was what today was like except it was fires popping up everywhere and planes and firefighters trying to knock them back down.

Mike and I were kept busy patrolling Sag Lake Trail.  The houses with sprinklers required very little attention, the ones without were a completely different story.  We would drive down one driveway to find fire creeping up the hill towards a cabin and then call for a fire truck to come and spray it down.  Then we would head down another road to find another cabin in danger of flames and call for more assistance.  While checking for hot spots near cabins flames were erupting all around us.

We drove up and down the roads while flames consumed the trees.  The smoke was thick, ashes were floating everywhere, and we constantly had to keep an eye out for falling trees and branches.  Fire crews on other roads at the end of the Gunflint Trail did the same thing and were constantly in harms way.

Again we were lucky.  No lives were lost.  Structures are lost and are replaceable.  Lives are not.

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Ham Lake Fire May 8, 2007

The Bright Side-

The wilderness at the end of the Gunflint Trail remains.  The crystal clear lakes are the same and they are still teeming with fish.  The night sky still holds millions of stars to gaze at.  The songs of birds, spring peepers and loons can  be heard.  Eagles soar overhead and wildlife remains in our forest.  Marsh Marigolds are blooming even where the fire went through.  There are trees standing and the forest will remain, no matter what shape it is in.

More and more people are arriving to help with the fire suppression efforts each day.  They arrive by busloads ready to fight the Ham Lake Fire.  Teams are eager to help and to do what they can to save structures and from keeping the spread of the fire to a minimum.  These people are risking their lives for the sake of other people’s property.

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  • Admiring the green the recent rain has brought us and meet up with our Moose Friend along the way 🌲🍃🌱🌳 • • •... t.co/bhtLLqoY4c

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