A windstorm that ravaged parts of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness more than 20 years ago is still impacting the ecosystem in a big way, with the Superior National Forest ready to light several intentional fires in coming weeks to remove dead wood left by the storm that could still fuel major wildfires.
Forest Service officials Monday said they will begin another round of intentional fires as early as Sept. 3, depending on weather conditions, and may continue burning through October.
Intentional or so-called prescribed fires work best when the fuels are dry enough to burn but when conditions aren't so dry that the fires might spread.
The intentional fires are planned for the Crab Lake and Basswood Lake (Prairie Portage) areas near Ely and Duncan Lake and Lux Lake areas near the Gunflint Trail.
The Duncan Lake Prescribed Fire will include three units totaling 5,752 acres within the BWCAW about 22 miles north of Grand Marais. The Lux Lake fires will consist of two units totaling 3,276 acres. Farther west the Basswood Lake fire will be about 1,700 acres and the Crab Lake fire, between Trout and Burntside lakes, is planned for about 2,100 acres, said Gus Smith, Kawishiwi District ranger for the Forest Service.
This latest round of intentional fires have been in the works since 2001 when the Forest Service began a yearslong effort to remove some of the millions of downed and drying trees form the blowdown. Since the storm hit nearly 50,000 acres have been burned in and around the BWCAW to rob wildfires of the fuel needed to spread out of control and out of the wildness where they might threaten cabins, homes and lodges.
“The units are all connected to the significant windstorm that occurred on July 4, 1999 affecting approximately 500,000 acres across the Superior National Forest,’’ Monday’s announcement noted.
The state’s largest fires of the last 80 years have been in and around areas hard-hit by the blowdown, including the May 2007 Ham Lake fire that burned across 76,000 acres in Minnesota and Ontario and destroyed 163 buildings. The Pagami Creek fire of August 2011 also burned some areas of blowdown on its way to burning across 93,000 acres in the BWCAW.
Residents, cabin owners and other interested people can get more information on the planned fires in the western areas at 218-248-2411 or, in the Gunflint Trail area, at 218-387-1750. Additional details are available on the Superior National Forest website at fs.usda.gov/superior.