Minnesota wildfire now 61 percent contained

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 28, 2011 3:04 PM
Minnesota wildfire now 61 percent contained

By David Bailey

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - A wildfire that has consumed more than 93,000 acres of Minnesota wilderness was 61 percent contained with no date set yet for full containment, a spokeswoman for the team fighting the fire said on Wednesday.

More than 700 firefighters, including a type 1 team from the Rockies with 10 "hotshot" crews, were fighting the fire on Wednesday, according to Brenda Bowen, a spokeswoman for the Pagami Creek Fire team.

"It is going to depend on the weather and the fire activity and how much progress the crews make over the next few days," Bowen said of prospects for full containment of the fire ignited in mid-August by lightning near Ely, Minnesota.

The fire smoldered at no more than a few thousand acres for weeks until high winds stoked a single day burst of growth by nearly 10 times to its current size in early September, sending a smoke trail hundreds of miles to the south that prompted health warnings in Milwaukee and Chicago.

At its peak, about 850 firefighters actively worked to contain the blaze mainly to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in the northeast corner of Minnesota favored for its wilderness canoeing and remote campsites.

The larger type 1 team that took over the operation two weeks ago was expected to rotate out of the area possibly around Saturday to Monday, to be replaced by another top team, or possibly a smaller type 2 group, Bowen said.

"We really don't have an end-date or a magic number in mind at this point," Bowen said.

Some areas to the north and west of the fire in the Superior National Forest have been reopened. They were closed three weeks ago when the rapid expansion of the blaze threatened to reach smaller communities in the region.

The big concern has been that the fire could reach an area of the wilderness where trees across nearly 400,000 acres were blown down in 1999. The blaze has been held well south of the main part of that area this year.

Firefighters have been dropping water on fire hotspots over the past two weeks using helicopters and airplanes. On Wednesday, they reinforced containment lines to prepare for the possibility of stronger winds on Wednesday night and Thursday.

Warm and dry weather was expected on Wednesday with high temperatures in the mid to upper 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Winds were expected to increase in the afternoon to up to 11 miles per hour from the west southwest, with gusts of up to 18 mph.

"Aircraft will be used throughout the day to drop water on the portions of unlined fire perimeter to lessen the chance of fire movement when winds arrive," the team said.

Cooler temperatures are expected later Wednesday with a chance of rain and strong northwesterly winds.

(Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)