DULUTH – Fire crews battling the Greenwood wildfire scrambled to capitalize on the nearly 2 inches of rain that fell over the weekend in hopes of making big gains on the largely uncontained fire ahead of what is expected to be several dry days in the drought-ravaged region.
The Superior National Forest fire still burns, but weaker winds, cooler weather and humid conditions have tamped down concerns the fire soon will spread beyond its 40-square-mile footprint, said Joe Moore, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Duluth.
"There are great conditions to get this fire contained," he said, with more rain possible near the end of the week.
But because of the area's severe drought, "a long, saturating rain" is needed to put out the fire, said Larry Bickel, a public information officer for the national interagency team managing the fire.
Storms dumped 1.5 to 2 inches of rain over the weekend, that region's biggest 24-hour soak of the year, forecasters said.
"Today, fuels are damp," he said, of the brush and dead trees that easily ignite. "We'll wake up [tomorrow] and will it be another flaming beast? Hopefully we won't see that again."
The smoldering fire has not grown much for several days, after erupting last week in a surge that destroyed more than a dozen homes and nearly 60 outbuildings. The fire is just 14% contained on its northwestern edge, according to a daily fire update, meaning that that portion of the fire perimeter has enough cleared and burned-out areas that a fire it is not likely to cross it.
Many areas lining the blaze have some measure of protection called "black line," which can range from 15 to 300 feet.
On Monday, work among the 468 crew members, including firefighter teams from across the country, local volunteer fire departments and contract loggers, continued to build deeper containment lines, cut down and remove fallen trees and extinguish hot spots. A heavy focus is on the northeastern and eastern sides of the fire, which is in the direction of the small town of Isabella, operations section chief Pete Glover said in a Monday briefing.
If conditions are right, Bickel said, crews will "fight fire with fire" later this week, starting a controlled burn to push the Greenwood fire back onto itself. An old railroad line, the Stony River Grade Road, will act as a barrier. Crews have been fortifying the length of it for days, along with Hwy. 1.
Bickel said protection of the northwest and western sides of the fire is "looking great." Homes and other buildings in the town of Isabella, now about 10 miles from the fire, are being assessed for vulnerabilities, but fire officials say Ely, Babbitt, Finland and Brimson aren't in danger. Residents in the Slate Lake area were allowed to return home Saturday, but all other evacuation orders remain.
Nearly an inch of rain fell over the John Ek and Whelp fires in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and where the Quetico Provincial Park fires burn near the Canadian border and the BWCA. Neither of the uncontained John Ek and Whelp fires has grown since last week.
The Greenwood fire, which blazed so hot and fast a week ago that it created its own pyrocumulus cloud, has burned for more than two weeks. It now sits between Greenwood Lake and the intersections of county Hwy. 2 and state Hwy. 1.
A 6 p.m. Tuesday community meeting at Finland's Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center will stream live on Facebook.
Jana Hollingsworth • 218-508-2450