Low humidity, gusty winds challenge firefighters in northern Minnesota

A helicopter drops water on a wildfire
A helicopter drops water on the Delta Lake fire east of Ely, Minn., earlier this month.
Courtesy Superior National Forest

Officials with northern Minnesota's Superior National Forest say they saw a flare-up of fire activity on Sunday as low humidity and gusty winds — combined with the ongoing drought — created dangerous fire conditions.

Authorities reported Sunday evening that the Phantom Creek and Bear Creek fires about 10 miles west of Ely "are getting some suppression action due to increased fire behavior.”

"Expect to see several aircraft dipping out of Lake Vermilion and making water drops on both fires to slow movement so personnel on the ground can take action," the Forest Service reported. Officials said any boaters out on the lake who see firefighting aircraft at work should move to shore.

A red flag warning was in effect Sunday afternoon for northeastern and much of north-central Minnesota, and Superior National Forest officials reported that conditions were "very windy and very dry."

The Phantom Creek fire was sparked by lightning as storms moved through the area late Friday and early Saturday. As of Sunday morning it was about an acre in size.

The nearby Bear Creek fire, first reported Thursday, was about seven acres as of Sunday morning. Thunderstorm winds had helped it grow earlier in the weekend, and Sunday's dry condition led to increased activity.

The 62-acre Delta Lake fire east of Ely was up to 85 percent containment Sunday, with officials reporting that containment lines "held with the strong winds from the previous day." Recent rainfall helped douse hot spots.

Crews have been on the lookout for other fires in the Superior National Forest and are monitoring two others:

  • the Sundial South fire about 15 miles north of Ely; it was about a tenth of an acre in size as of Sunday morning.

  • the Rock Island fire about 15 miles east of Ely, about 1 1/2 acres as of Sunday morning.

A Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness closure order tied to the Delta Lake fire was lifted over the weekend, as crews further contain that fire.

A separate, larger BWCA closure order remains in place north of Ely because of concerns about wildfires burning largely unchecked just north of the Canadian border, in Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park.

That closure area stretches east nearly to Basswood Lake, west nearly to Crane Lake and south to the Echo Trail.

The three large fires in Quetico closest to the border had burned a combined 15,000 acres as of Saturday.

Authorities reported that a flight to assess the Canadian fires over the weekend found "some heat on the southern perimeter, but mostly creeping with very little movement thanks to the recent rain." But with dry conditions in the forecast, they said they're "expecting more growth over the coming days."

U.S. firefighting crews have been working along the border, scouting for potential control lines if the Quetico fires spread south.

A campfire ban remains in effect for all of the Superior National Forest amid the ongoing drought conditions.

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