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Continued: Gunflint Trail fire likely to expand

  • Article by: LARRY OAKES , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 9, 2007 - 1:47 PM

The hot line told the Gillespies their cabin was undamaged. But when they picked up a newspaper Tuesday morning, an aerial photo of the shoreline near their place was on the front page, and it showed that several neighbors' cabins had burned.

The photographer happened to be in the same hotel and enlarged another photo that showed, plain as day, the Gillespies' cabin standing, its steel roof gleaming.

They were amazed, they said, because they hadn't yet installed the outdoor building sprinkler systems many neighbors did after the blow-down. They wondered if the bare soil around their cabin since its recent construction provided just enough of a fire break, and if perhaps the steel roof repelled just enough of the embers that surely rained on the structure.

"It's so good to see, to get that confirmation," Dick Gillespie said. "It's almost like getting the cabin all over again."

The will to rebuild

The Gillespies were waiting in line Tuesday at the Cross River barricade for a chance to visit their property for an hour with an escort. But the wind picked up, sending up plumes of new smoke and prompting officials to declare an end to the visits. "It got a little too dicey," Sheriff Mark Falk said.

Up ahead, Jan Sivertson, with her friend, Carol DeSain of Tofte, was in the last car to get through.

Sivertson knew roughly what she would find. A friend had warned Monday that her cabin may have burned. She confirmed the awful news Monday night after hiring a light plane at Devil Track airport, to fly her and DeSain over Seagull Lake.

It was heartbreaking, she said, but she also was cheered to see that many of the pines surrounding her place, though blackened, were still standing. She did her crying at home that night, she said. On Tuesday, she drove up the Gunflint. She said she needed to see the damage close up, to help it sink in.

With escort in tow, they drove past the barricades, through a gauntlet of blackened trees, past distant smoke plumes and parked fire trucks. They turned down a two-rut side road, then up the steep gravel driveway to the top of the bluff where Sivertson's cabin had stood.

Smoke rose from somewhere beyond the lake's opposite shore, and a yellow plane droned overhead, making wide circles as it scooped water from the lake and bombed the head of the fire.

Sivertson took in the devastation, but also what remained. "Look, there are all kinds of little green trees still intact," she said. "And there's a nice view of the lake over there now."

Her friend DeSain replied: "If you want to believe in the future, you have to focus on what's there."

Then Sivertson mused, "I'm not sad to see the outhouse gone -- it was really old and icky." They both laughed.

The cabin was insured, and Sivertson said she will rebuild, but not for a while. "I'm not emotionally ready," she said. "I need to let the dust settle."

After 15 minutes, the Border Patrol escort returned and said it was getting too dangerous to stay.

"On one level," Sivertson said, as they drove back, "I'm just sort of amazed that something can be so changed in an instant. But I'm also grateful to see all those trees and intact views. To lose those would have been devastating."

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