With small fires popping up in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) and tinder-dry conditions posing a potential hazard, campfires are being restricted and about 20 lakes and part of a well-known hiking trail have been closed.

Firefighters began evacuating campers from Ensign Lake, which has more than 20 campsites, and nearby smaller lakes late Tuesday. Portages leading into the area were also closed. Officials also closed part of the 24-mile Snowbank Lake Hiking Trail from the trailhead to Boot Lake.

And until more rain dampens the fire hazard, campfires in the entire BWCA will only be allowed from 7 p.m. to midnight.

"[The conditions] are really, really dry, and we don't need to be any busier than we already are," said Becca Manlove, spokeswoman for Superior National Forest.

Firefighters have been on the ground and in the air since Sunday, trying to extinguish a fire that broke out on the northeast shore of Otter Lake and spread to the western shore of Cummings Lake.

The fire, which has burned 50 acres, is 60 percent contained as firefighters work to box in the flames, Manlove said.

At least five other fires scattered throughout the BWCA were ignited by lightning when a small storm, that brought about a half inch of rain, rolled through Tuesday night. By Thursday, firefighters had contained a couple of those fires and knocked down another. But another small fire broke out on Fire Lake, east of Lake One.

A fire on Wooden Leg Lake prompted Forest Service officials to close that lake and others nearby because the balsam trees and a blowdown area could easily ignite, Manlove said. The closed area, which is only a small portion of the BWCAW, was expanded Thursday as a precaution in case westerly winds pushed the fire further east.

"Blowdowns burn hot and fast, making those fires harder to control," she said. Combined with rough terrain, it could make it difficult to evacuate campers, she said.

Those dangers also meant the Forest Service attacked the Wooden Leg fire from the air rather than put firefighters on the ground, Manlove said.

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788