ISABELLA, Minn. — According to an update from U.S. Forest Service (USFS) officials Monday afternoon, more evacuations have been ordered in parts of northern Minnesota as the Greenwood Fire continues to burn.
The update says that evacuations have started from Deep Lake Road to Little Isabella Road, including the areas surrounding Mitiwan, Grouse and Kitigan Lakes.
During a briefing on Monday night, Lake County Sheriff Carey Johnson said 159 additional places had been evacuated -- including one resort near Highway 1 that was being rushed off the phone during a call with KARE 11.
Jerritt Johnston, a public information officer with the Eastern Area Incident Management team, said 426 firefighters are on the ground battling Greenwood. They faced significant challenges on Monday due to heat, lower humidity, and gusty winds.
"We have incredibly dry fuels in the woods," Johnston said. "This is historic drought."
That's been a problem all season in Superior National Forest.
"The folks who are directly impacted by this, need to take action now," Johnston said, "but we still have a lot of season left here. Folks sitting there, watching these fires, saying, 'thank god that's not me,' it only takes one incident -- one lightning strike -- for it to become us."
USFS officials added in the update that the fire was expected to cross State Highway 1 near the intersection of Lake County Highway 2, and that it has moved to the northeast near McDougal Lake, "requiring fire and structure protection crews to retreat to areas of safety."
A new evacuation center has also been established at the ice arena in Babbitt.
According to a Monday morning Facebook post, evacuation orders were already in effect for:
- McDougal Lake
- Sand Lake
- The Highway 2 corridor
- North of Highway 1 in the vicinity of East and West Chub Lakes, Jackpot, and Slate Lake
The post said weather conditions on Sunday afternoon such as warmer temperatures, lower humidity and gusty winds increased fire activity.
The Greenwood Fire is still at zero percent containment, but according to the post the fire did not grow on Sunday, remaining at 8,862 acres "due to firefighting efforts and improved mapping of the fire footprint."
The post added continued firefighting efforts will focus on reinforcing the southern line along Hwy 2, near McDougal and Slate Lakes. It also says additional heavy equipment and personnel are being used "to assist in fire suppression."
Current closures in the area include:
- Hwy 2 from Forest Hwy 11 to Hwy 1
- Hwy 1 from New Tomahawk Rd to Lankinen Rd.
- A Forest Service closure order which extends across areas within the Kawishiwi, Laurentian, and Tofte Ranger Districts.
There are also two other major fires -- albeit much smaller -- raging within the actual Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, known as the John Ek and Whelp fires. They are both located near the county line of Lake and Cook counties.
Clare Shirley, owner of Sawbill Canoe Outfitters north of Tofte and just four miles from the Whelp fire, said she's only noticed occasional smoke and haze in the air from her vantage point. However, with the closure of the BWCA, her parking lot is empty and canoes remain untouched.
"It is weird," she said. "We've been trying to get a hold of our customers. Primarily, we wanted to get in contact with people that were on their way up here. We had people from Ohio trying to get up here."
Much farther north at the Gunflint trail, pre-evacuation notices have gone out, but Shirley has not been notified of any such updates in her area.
"I take my cue from the local fire officials on the ground up here," Shirley said. "They have a ton of experience on the forests. So, I'm not going to get nervous until they get nervous."