Crews not declaring victory over Ely wildfire just yet

10:43 AM, May 19, 2012   |    comments
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ELY, Minn. - A quick response to a wild fire may have saved the town of Ely, but fire officials say the battle's not over yet.

Fire crews remain on scene near Highway 1 just south of the town Friday after a fire broke out there a day earlier. Flames got a few hundred yards away from the southern part of the Ely.

As of Friday afternoon officials felt good about their effort to contain the fire, but were not celebrating just yet.

"Today is going to be a major test and the temperatures we're going to experience," said Ron Sanow with the Minnesota Incident Management team.

Almost a hundred fire fighters from multiple areas spent the day battling a fire that came dangerously close to Ely, which forced the temporary evacuation of the town's south side.

As of Friday afternoon, people of six homes outside of town near Highway 1 were still not allowed into their houses because of fears the blaze could rekindle.

Officials spent the day dousing hot spots and cutting down dead timber after a power line somehow snapped Thursday. A spark then ignited a blaze that blackened more than 200 acres, coming only a few hundred feet from the town.

A chopper could be seen dropping water over the affected area in the early afternoon from downtown Ely.

"The primary challenge is making sure we do a very thorough job of mopping up these hot spots so we can keep it contained," said Brian Leitinger, with Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

It was a different story just a day earlier when smoke could be seen and smelt as it entered the small town. Townspeople are crediting the quick action of fire fighters with saving structures and homes.

Only three small out buildings were lost.

"It has not grown passed the suppression efforts stalled it out last night. We had crews on it all night," said Sanow.

Donna Kari saw the clouds of smoke inch closer Thursday as she watched from her son's business, Ely Outdoors.

While she's not sounding the alarm quite yet, the dry conditions Friday and the darkened memories of the tens of thousands of acres that burned in the Boundary Waters last year have some worried this is only the beginning.

"I'm sure that's in the back of everyone's mind, but it's far back right at the moment," said Kari.

She wants tourists to know the area is still open for business.

"You never want anyone to think they couldn't come up here, they couldn't come vacation, they couldn't keep their plans," she said.

Just outside of town, fire fighters see how dry the terrain is, but are focused on the task at hand.

"These rock areas are very dry," said Leitinger.

All they can do is fight what is in front of them, knowing every charred step they take maybe the first of many to come.

"Very possibly," he said. "Let's hope it's not."

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. )

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