Ham Fire May 19th, 2007 Part 1

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.

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