By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Parts of Minnesota’s most popular fall destinations may be on fire well after the leaves turn.

This past weekend brought some much-needed relief in the fight against the Greenwood Fire in northern Minnesota, which is now 37% contained after charring about 26,000 acres. Lightning started it two weeks ago near the North Shore, and it’s been burning for more than two weeks near Isabella.

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The evacuation has affected about 300 people. Officials say Monday was a good one, with no smoke in the air. Still, there are questions and caution about just when residents will be allowed back in.

Stephanie Aho’s parents, Steve and Marilyn Peterson, had just officially made their cabin their home on Sand Lake last month.

“They were just excited to enjoy a retirement and live at the lake,” Aho said.

But on Aug. 16, her parents were given a 30-minute lead to leave. They filmed the moment a firefighting plane flew past their front window.

“It’s kind of one of those things that maybe you just don’t think is gonna really happen, but things changed in a hurry,” Aho said.

She wanted to do what she could to help the hundreds forced from their homes like her parents, and the 14 volunteer departments helping fight the Greenwood Fire.

Park State Bank is sponsoring a supply drive, where pallets of water and snacks are piling up in Two Harbors, along with thank you cards from local kids. Kiera Wilson is the bank’s vice president of business banking.

“We’re seeing what an impact this has made in our community, but it’s even greater and beyond,” Wilson said. “For us, it’s ‘What can we do to give back? What can we do to help?’”

Too much help attracted bears to an area around the fire. Hannah Bergemann with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says her agency is asking people to direct donations in a different way.

“While we really appreciate just the outpouring of kindness that we’re experiencing from the local community, we cannot accept donations here at the incident,” Bergemann said.

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(credit: CBS)

Signs can be seen along roads and on local stores as people express their thanks for all of the work being done to protect their property.

WCCO found a sense of some relief near the roadblocks surrounding the fire after a long season for Larry Bickel and his team from the East Coast — the Eastern Area Incident Management Team.

“We haven’t had any movement in the fire for the past three or four days,” Bickel said. “We’re tired. We don’t know what’s going on with the world, but they’re burning hotter, they’re burning later, so it’s been a real challenge for us as fire teams to get on these fires.”

That challenge right now centers on the east side of this fire.

“Right now with the wind prediction and what is going on, Isabella is a concern to us,” Bickel said.

Bergemann from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service points to the northern tier, where a large intentional fire was set to gain control, lifting some evacuations.

“There was a firing operation done on this road up here. That’s helped to secure Highway One,” Bergemann said. “We’re not completely out of the woods here.”

The next move will center around Stoney Creek Grade Road, where they plan to set more fuels on fire on purpose.

“What we’re going to do is do some strategic firing towards the fire to get a thick black containment line,” Bickel said. “That’s what we’re going to attempt to do in the next couple of days.”

The incident command center is now set up in Finland, where teams monitor Monday’s 470-person crew, changing weather conditions, and the possibility of more fire activity this week. There will be another community meeting Tuesday night at 6 p.m., when evacuated residents could get a better idea of when they’ll be allowed back in their homes and cabins.

The fire already destroyed more than a dozen cabins or homes and nearly 70 outbuildings. It could burn for months, but firefighters hope to contain the fire by the end of next week.

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The Petersons on Sand Lake tell WCCO they have not sustained any damage. The fire has been kept about three miles from them.

Liz Collin