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BWCA Weather for Ely, Grand Marais, and the Gunflint Trail

 
 

Ham Lake Fire Threatens Canadian Properties

5/21/07 By Rhonda Silence 

Progress has been made toward containment of the Ham Lake
Fire
. At press time, plans were being made to allow property owners
to return to their homes for a few hours to assess damages. However,
the danger of the Ham Lake Fire is far from over. On Thursday,
May 17, fire officials were gearing up for warmer, dryer weather
and the fire was pushing further into Ontario, Canada.
The estimated acreage involved as of 6:00 AM Thursday, May
17 is 75,851—36,443 acres in the United States and 39,408 acres in
Canada. Containment in the United States is estimated to be 65%.
Michael Weber of the Type 1 National Incident Management Team
said the perimeter of the fire is 99 miles.
U.S. and Canadian firefighters continue work to secure containment
lines and to protect structures. On the U.S. side, the focus has
been primarily on the south flank of the ‘fire finger’ from the Iron
Lake area to Round Lake. Crews are mopping up hot spots along
the containment lines and near structures. At the Wednesday, May
16 evening public meeting, Forest Service spokesperson Mark
VanEvery pointed to the fire progression map, noting the black lines
designating contained areas. “We expect this all to be black, or at
least most of it to be, by tomorrow,” he said.
That was much better news for the audience, which had repeatedly
heard that firefighters “had a monster by the tail.” VanEvery
said everyone should be grateful for the cooler weather, higher
humidity, and light rain.
On the Canadian side, the news is not as good. At the May 16
meeting, Canadian Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) Incident
Commander Dave Manol called the Ham Lake Fire a “three-headed
monster,” pointing to the three-prongs of the fire, reaching up
toward the islands on Lake Saganaga and the Northern Lights Lake
area. As the fire has calmed on the U.S. side, three type 1 ‘Hotshot’
crews have moved to help their Canadian counterparts near the
Northern Lights Lake area. On the northern flank, crews are patrolling
the Saganaga Lake islands, completing direct line construction
on the east flank, protecting structures in the Sag Lake area, and
securing the north end of the fire. Many in attendance at the meeting
are property owners in Canada and they crowded around the
fire progression map to see if they had been affected by the fire.
Mike and Steve Quaife have a family cabin on Stitch Island on Lake
Saganaga. They said MNR had put in sprinkler systems around the
seven cabins on the island, so they were “in good shape.” Harry
Fisher, also on Saganaga was not so certain how his property had
fared.
Structural loss and assessment continue on both sides of the
border. The Cook County Assessors said the area from the west
end of Poplar Lake to the end of the Gunflint Trail includes 342
parcels with 897 structures, for a total market structural value of
$45,808,500. Firefighting efforts saved 759 of those buildings, at
$42,100,000 in market value.
The assessment lists 138 total structures lost in the U.S. at an estimate
value of $3.7 million. Asked if that figure isn’t low for such a
high number of properties, Assistant County Assessor Mary Black
noted that the valuation is for the structure only. The land itself has
value, especially if it is directly on a lake. In Canada, 14 structures
have been confirmed lost.
Even as assessment and mop-up begins, there is talk of rebuilding.
Administrators at Wilderness Canoe Base, on Fishhook Island
on Seagull Lake, joyfully reported to its alumni that the Chapel and
the Pine Cliff building had survived, as had the historic Bridge of
the Master. And, the Wilderness website asks, “The early years at
the Base were filled with challenges, hard work and deep faith. Why
should it be any different tomorrow?”
Arrowhead Electric Cooperative, Inc., the electricity provider
for the Gunflint Trail, has been working around the clock to restore
burned power lines. According to Financial Operations Manager
Jeanne Muntean, power has been restored to most of the main
distribution lines. However, it will take some time before electricity
is turned on at each individual residence. “The line crews have
to make sure there isn’t damage to propane lines or other hazards
before they turn on the power,” she explained.
Phone service is also being restored, another long process, which
is dependent on fire conditions.
Knowing that the restoration of infrastructure will be expensive,
the Cook County Board held a special meeting on Thursday, May
10, to pass a resolution declaring a state of emergency in Cook
County due to the fire. Passing the resolution is an administrative
move that is needed if the county applies for state or federal funds
in the future.
However, the final cost to citizens and to the county is still
unknown. The projected containment date is May 20, 2007, which
is followed by an extensive mop-up period.

The Forest Service estimates
its costs, as of May 17, to be
$7.3 million. There are 36
crews, from all over the United
State working on the fire—from
Alaska, Arizona, California,
Colorado, Idaho, Illinois,
Indiana, Louisana, Michigan,
Minnesota, Montana, Missouri,
Nevada, New Hampshire, New
Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio,
Oregon, Pennsylvania, South
Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont,
Washington, West Virginia,
Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
There is air support in the
form of 12 helicopters from
Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota,
and New Mexico and airtankers
and airplanes from Arizona,
California, Colorado, Idaho,
Michigan, Minnesota, Montana,
New Mexico, and Canada.
Approximately 979 people are
assigned to the fire.
The public is reminded
that the upper Gunflint Trail
is closed, except for a limited
visit by property owners who
attended a safety briefing. At
press time, the road block is at
the Cross River. The road block
could be moved due to fire conditions,
so visitors should call
ahead before attempting to travel
up the Trail.
Also at press time, the areas
of Superior National Forest outside
of the Boundary Waters
Canoe Area (BWCAW) were
again open except in the evacuation
area. Ranger VanEvery
said the Forest Service expects
to once again open BWCAW
reservation system for entry
points outside the area impacted
by the fire on May 20.
He added that the portages
and campgrounds in the fire
area will need to be inspected
and cleaned up. However, he
said the Forest Service hopes
to have all entries open by June
14 or earlier. Campers should
visit a local Ranger Station or
go on-line to www.fs.fed.us/r9/
superior to ensure the area you
plan to visit is not affected by
a closure.
Anyone planning to travel to
Northwestern Ontario should
first call the Ontario MNR
office closest to their planned
destination to ensure that fire
or evacuation zones have not
cut off access. Current Ontario
fire information is available
toll-free at (888) 258-8842. As
it is in the U.S., all open burning,
including fires for cooking
and warmth are prohibited at
this time.
Fire restrictions remain in
effect for Cook, Lake, and St.
Louis Counties. No recreational
fires (except gas or propane
fired campstoves and grills), no
welding, acetylene torches, or
other devices with open flames.
Off-highway vehicle (OHV)
operators are reminded to stay
on designated forest roads to
avoid muffler contact with dry
vegetation.

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