Minnesota's Largest Wildfire Doubles in Size, Forcing Closure of Popular Camp Sites

Minnesota's largest wildfire doubled in size, prompting U.S. Forest Service officials to close popular campsites, including the Trails End and Iron Lake campgrounds, on Wednesday.

Officials extended the closure of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on Wednesday, disrupting the plans of visitors to the area. The closure of the one million-acre Boundary Waters will last until at least September 3.

Forest Service lands along upper Gunflint Trail, including the campgrounds and the Magnetic Rock Hiking Trail were also closed, which will last at least a week. The road for Gunflint Trail itself will remain open, as well as the resorts along it.

Cook County Sheriff's office issued an order Monday for residents of the area to prepare in case an evacuation is required.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Minnesota Wildfire
Minnesota's massive fire has doubled in size, prompting the shutdown of popular camping destinations. The above image shows the sun rising behind smoke on August 24, 2021, in Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota. Sarah Shapiro/USDA Forest Service via AP

The Greenwood Lake fire burning in the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota grew to about 30 square miles (77 square kilometers) Monday, and four new smaller fires ignited within the BWCA. By Wednesday, the size was estimated at 34 square miles (88 square kilometers).

"It's a bummer for sure," Sue Prom, co-owner of Voyageur Canoe Outfitters, wrote on her blog Wednesday. "People have canoe trips planned that have to be cancelled, folks are being evacuated from their cabins and homes and there's smoke in the air. Fire fighters are exhausted and people's nerves are frayed. Business owners are wondering how they will make it through the winter without the income they were expecting during the last two weeks of August and potentially into September. It isn't all gloom and doom though. No lives have been lost, there have been no significant injuries and damage to private property has so far been relatively little."

There are now 13 fires burning in the Superior National Forest, although not all are being actively fought and some have been contained, the Star Tribune reported. The Petit, Gabi, Rice Bay and Second Creek fires started Monday in the BWCA.

Several fires caused by lightning have burned in the wilderness during this summer's drought conditions, while the much bigger Greenwood Lake fire just to the south has forced the evacuation of about 280 homes and cabins since it was spotted August 15 about 15 miles (24 kilometers) southwest of the town of Isabella.

Forest officials have also kept a nervous eye on fires burning just across the Canadian border, in Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park, which led them to close some parts of the Boundary Waters north of Ely earlier this summer.

But when the John Ek fire took off late last week, forest officials decided to close the entire wilderness area as a precaution. They said that fire and the Greenwood Lake fire had stretched their resources too thin to ensure the safety of paddlers and campers. Neither fire grew much Tuesday thanks to better weather, Forest Service officials said.

More than 400 crew members are fighting the forest fires.

Smoke from Wildfires Minn.
Officials have closed the one million-acre Boundary Waters site until at least September 3. Above, heavy smoke hangs in the air in Ely, Minnesota, on August 24, 2021. Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via AP