Photos by Rhonda Silence
The Iron-Mash prescribed burn left behind some charred trees and brush, but the beauty of a small swamp is still visible. (Inset) Signs along the Gunflint Trail mark the spots where controlled burns are being conducted.

Where there is smoke...

By Rhonda Silence
The old adage 'where there is smoke, there is fire' was certainly true at several locations on the Gunflint Trail for the past week, and will be for several weeks to come. On Thursday, September 12, 2002, the U.S. Forest Service began prescribed burns to reduce "fuel loads" consisting of downed trees left behind by the July 4, 1999 windstorm. The prescribed burns and smoke drifting across the Gunflint will continue for as long as weather allows.
The September 13 burn was on the Loon Lake peninsula. Jo Barnier of the Gunflint Ranger District said there were approximately 40 people assigned to the burn, as well as motorboats, canoes, a Beaver floatplane and a helicopter with ignition torch. The Loon Lake "unit" was 218 acres.
Smaller acreage burns continued through the weekend. The Iron-Mash Fire, south of Loon Lake, was approximately 100 acres. On Sunday, September 15, the Meditation Lake burn was completed with 130-acres burned. Information Specialist Jean Bergerson said the smaller weekend fires were a warm-up for the larger Magnetic Rock prescribed burn. "The smaller burns were conducted first to get all the resources in place and check burning conditions," Bergerson said.
It gave Gunflint Trail residents and visitors the opportunity to get used to aircraft hovering overhead. On Sunday, a Bell helicopter dropped buckets of water on "hot spots." Bergerson said helicopters are routinely used to keep prescribed burns in the control area. "If they have hot spots close to the line, or hot spots that could compromise the line, they do some 'bucket work.'"
On Monday, September 16, helitorch and drip torch ground crews ignited the 2,486-acre Magnetic Rock burn in the afternoon. Part of that burn is located in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).
Forest Service spokesperson Kris Reichenbach said the large burn unit includes multiple patches of blowdown. The larger fire warrants more personnel on hand, and Reichenbach said approximately 70 people were assigned to the burn, along with support crews for two pumper trucks, a skidder/dozer, two Beaver Floatplanes, one type 1 Airtanker, one type-2 helicopter, and one type 3 helicopter.
Bergerson said 300 acres were completed on Monday, September 17. "They got a late start because the wind was not coming from the direction they wanted," said Bergerson.
On Tuesday, September 17, the Magnetic Rock fire was again ignited by helitorch at approximately 10 a.m. Fire was visible to travelers on the Gunflint Trail between Gunflint Lake and Magnetic Lake, startling many. Forest Service and Minnesota Department of Resources personnel directed traffic and reassured drivers that the fire was a prescribed burn.
Information Specialist Cindy Sage said weather conditions were perfect on September 17 and the Magnetic Rock burn was completed. On Wednesday, September 18, crews were mopping up the hot spots in the 2,486-acre area.
Following completion of the Magnetic Rock burn on September 18, the Forest Service began a 1,034-acre unit in the BWCAW on Three Mile Island in Seagull Lake.
There are also plans to complete a 2,618-acre prescribed burn called Kekekabic which is 1/4 mile west of the Seagull Guard Station and Dogleg, a 325-acre unit along the Gunflint Trail. However, all of the prescribed fires are dependent on weather conditions. Bergerson said if the humidity gets too high or if it rains, burns are postponed or cancelled. "Wind and humidity are all part of the planning. If it rains, or humidity is too high then consumption isn't high enough to proceed."
For up-to-the-minute prescribed burn information, visit the Superior National Forest website at www.fs.fed.us/r9/superior. General fire information is also available at the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center at www.dnr.state.mn.us/forestry/fire.

Related Links

Prescribed Burn Gallery Canadian Prescribed Burn
September 23, 2000 Prescribed Burn