Forum Communications, Published September 04 2012
Wildfire in Boundary Waters near Ely gets quick attention
Firefighters battled the Cummings Lake wildfire, about 12 miles northwest of Ely, and completed a control line on the eastern flank on Monday, Superior National Forest information officer Becca Manlove said. Meanwhile, a line on the southern flank was nearing completion, and work on the west and north flanks had begun, she said.
“It will be contained when we have a line completely around it and in control when they feel there are no hot spots within the fire line,” Manlove said. “That won’t be until we get some rain.”
No structures were immediately threatened by the flames. There were no official closures in the Boundary Waters, although camping on Otter Lake was not recommended.
The fire, amid black spruce in a lowland area, is burning on a peninsula separating the west side of Cummings Lake from the northeast side of Otter Lake.
The cause of the fire, first reported Sunday afternoon, wasn’t yet known Monday. There were no official closures in the Boundary Waters, although camping on Otter Lake wasn’t recommended.
Besides 14 firefighters on the ground, a type-III helicopter worked the fire Monday, Manlove said, with CL-215 water bombers on standby. Five aircraft worked the blaze Sunday.
Aerial suppression efforts held the western flank in check Monday morning until a ground crew was able to start building a line there in the afternoon, from Otter Lake north toward the head of the fire. Other personnel were building a control line from Cummings Lake west toward the head of the fire, to contain the active northern flank of the fire.
Manlove said residents and visitors should be aware that there will be fire patrols flown in the Ely area, along with aerial fire suppression efforts. There’s also smoke in the air from the Cummings Lake fire and a second, similar-sized fire burning just across the Canadian border, on the north shore of Basswood Lake at Norway Point.
That smoke may make it seem like the fires are closer to developed areas than they actually are, Manlove said. She said both fires were being monitored and posed no immediate threat to structures.
Fire danger remains high across the Northland after an extended period of warm, dry weather.
Crews quickly attacked the Cummings Lake fire after it was reported Sunday. But Manlove said that’s not because of a Forest Service policy change earlier this year, directing forest supervisors to attack wilderness fires when they’re small so resources aren’t tied up fighting fires that grow out of control, such as the Pagami Creek Fire southeast of Ely in August 2011 that burned 93,000 acres.
That temporary directive put on hold the usual Forest Service fire policy to let fires burn across the agency’s more than 400 wilderness areas that cover more than 36 million acres, including the BWCAW.
“There is a policy to have fire play its role in the ecology, but only under certain conditions,” Manlove said. “This fire happened during very dry conditions, under extreme fire conditions. Even if it happened before Pagami, we would be putting this one out in the same manner. So it’s not tied to Pagami, it’s tied to we’re under very dry conditions right now.”
The Basswood Lake fire, known as Fort Frances No. 53 or the Norway Point fire, was estimated at about 20 to 30 acres Monday, and remained on the Canadian side of the border. It moved farther to the east Monday and was being monitored by fire crews on both sides of the border.
Fire patrols flying over the Ely area Monday discovered a small wildfire burning on the southwest side of Cedar Lake, near a gravel pit off the Cloquet Line. That’s just outside Winton, or about five miles northeast of Ely.
The quarter-acre fire was attacked by Forest Service floatplanes, a helicopter and ground crews, and crews constructed a line around the entire blaze. Crews were mopping up hot spots Monday afternoon.