MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is closed to visitors for the next week as crews fight growing fires in the area, according to Superior National Forest officials.
The area is closed so firefighters can “focus on existing fires or new starts without worrying about public safety.”
The closure is effective immediately, and includes all lands, waters, trails, portages, campsites, canoe routes, and wilderness entry points.
Permit holders and outfitters have been notified and permits have been canceled through Aug. 27. They will be fully reimbursed.
“We do not make decisions like this lightly,” said Joanna Gilkeson, an official with the U.S. Forest Service – Superior National Forest. “We want people to be safe. We don’t want anyone to get trapped in there. We are concerned.”
The John Elk Fire, in the southeast corner of the BWCA, grew from three acres to 1600 acres on Friday. Crews are not able to reach the fire on the ground because it is difficult to access, but aircrafts continue to drop water on the fire to limit spread.
The Whelp Fire, four miles north of Sawbill Lake, expanded from 30 acres to 80 acres on Friday. Crews are also responding to additional fires in the west and monitoring others in Canada.
In recent days, the Greenwood Fire, just south of the BWCA, has grown to over 9,000 acres and forced dozens of evacuations near Isabella and Ely.
As of Saturday morning, officials say the fire was 0% contained, and they anticipate continued fire growth especially to the southeast.
The Forest Service expects there to be a lot of people to get out which sounds right to Mindy Fredrikson, the co-owner of Gunflint Lodge and Outfitters in Grand Marais.
“July and August are our bread-and-butter months,” she said.
Outfitting people for trips into the Boundary Waters is a part of Fredrikson’s business she’ll now have to go without for at least a week.
“It is, I’m sure, a disappointment for a lot of outfitters, especially on top of 2020 and the shutdowns and the COVID,” Fredrikson said.
Dr. Laalitha Surapaneni, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, says to take caution though when traveling because of the smoke from the wildfires.
“Limiting exposure to bad-quality air is always the first piece of advice I give so whether that means limiting travel up north is for people going up there to decide,” she said.
Crews were out trying to create anchor points on the southern edge of the fire on Friday, though winds from the southeast challenged their progress.
The fire also headed towards Highway 2, and crews spent time protecting structures along the roads. Officials say no buildings were lost. The most activity was in the north, as the fire jumped across Highway 2, heading northwest towards Jackpot Lake.
The area saw only a tenth of an inch of rain on Friday night, along with wind gusts up to 35 mph. Forest service officials say they anticipate continued winds, which can contribute to fire growth.
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