MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — Crews battling a wildfire in a northern Minnesota wilderness area said several days of favorable weather have helped them get it under control, although slightly warmer temperatures, dry air and wind renewed concern Friday.
Becca Manlove, a spokeswoman for the firefighting effort in Ely, said the team expected to announce later Friday that at least a small percentage of the fire was contained after several weeks of burning out of control.
“We were able to get a lot of direct attack done in the last several days,” she said.
Friday brought less favorable conditions. U.S. Forest Service spokesman Doug Anderson predicted a “more active fire day” in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, where the fire has already consumed more than 160 square miles, or more than 100,000 acres.
But the weekend could bring more relief. The National Weather Service in Duluth predicted up to a half-inch of rain beginning late Saturday into Sunday, with a smaller chance of isolated thunderstorms. A lightning strike ignited the fire on Aug. 18.
Carol Christenson, a meteorologist in that office, said it appeared there was a good chance of even more substantial rain Tuesday and Wednesday. “It appears the dry cycle that characterized the first several weeks of the fire is past,” she said.
Anderson said some firefighters had left by Friday morning, leaving about 500 to fight the blaze.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack toured the fire damage by air Friday and attended a briefing at the ranger station in Ely. Klobuchar suggested it was worth considering residents’ complaints that the Forest Service waited too long to begin actively fighting the fire.
Search crews will spend Friday night actively looking for campers on the northern side of the Boundary Waters, where the fire could potentially spread.
It was about 11 days from the start of the fire until crews began serious efforts to fight it, following Forest Service forest management practice.
“Maybe that decision should have been made earlier, to start containing the fire,” Klobuchar said.
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