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Most who lost structures are rebuilding

People were worried in the days and weeks after the Ham Lake fire ripped through homes and cabins at the end of the Gunflint Trail. What would the forest look like? Would people want to rebuild, or would the burned lots remain bare for years? It ...

People were worried in the days and weeks after the Ham Lake fire ripped through homes and cabins at the end of the Gunflint Trail.

What would the forest look like? Would people want to rebuild, or would the burned lots remain bare for years?

It turns out that many people are rebuilding. Construction activity around Seagull and Saganaga lakes has been steady since last summer, after home and cabin owners cleared away debris. Some began rebuilding immediately.

Owners had one year to apply for a new land-use permit that would allow them to rebuild on the footprint of their burned buildings; most of those buildings don't meet current setback standards, Cook County Planning Director Tim Nelson said. If the owners waited too long, many would have to push their buildings farther from the water's edge.

Of the 102 buildings lost to the fire, owners applied for land use permits to replace87 of them, including 28 permanent and seasonal homes and cabins, Nelson said. Two permanent homes and several cabins will not be rebuilt on their existing footprints, according to Nelson's office.

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A few owners put their burned lots up for sale, and several were quickly snapped up, including Earl and Anita Cypher's former Superior North Canoe Outfitters and the Sag Lake Store. The outfitter business was completely destroyed in the fire, while the store was damaged.

The eight-acre property sold for $750,000, Coldwell Banker broker Dean Detrick said. The new owners, Indiana residents Bob and Selma Langston, plan to renovate the store into a restaurant and build rental cabins on the outfitters site.

Real estate agents aren't surprised that interest is strong both in rebuilding and buying anew after the fire.

"You may see a suppression in the marketplace for a couple of years, but what draws people is the overall beauty of the area," Detrick said. Detrick has another sale pending on Seagull Lake, even though the two-acre lot was "completely burned," he said. The owner took a lump on the property's value but was able to find a buyer.

"Obviously, it didn't bother [the buyer] that much," Detrick said.

Frank and Pat Shunn lost their longtime home, which was on a rocky peak overlooking the end of the Gunflint Trail. The couple deliberated for a long time before deciding to sell the 6.8 acre property, and it was an agonizing decision, Pat Shunn said. They are asking $300,000 for the lot.

Pat Shunn said they had had inquiries about the property from as far away as California, and she wasn't surprised.

"For years and years and years, you couldn't buy anything up here; nobody was budging," Pat Shunn said. "This fire changed everything."

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Only about 8 percent of all the land in Cook County is in private hands, an equation that realtors say has skewed the real estate market.

"The land is the land; the trees come back," said Vicki Wentz, co-owner of Gunflint Realty in Grand Marais. She is marketing a five-acre parcel on Sag Lake Trail that burned during the Ham Lake fire. The property was listed at $395,000 before the fire; afterwards, the price dropped to $125,000.

There has been moderate interest in the property, Wentz said, but she chalks that up more to the current housing market than the fire's effects.

Grand Marais contractor Rick Austin is working to rebuild several cabins on the trail. He said that many property owners were sidelined by insurance problems after the fire, and he expected the rebuilding to continue this year.

Kyle Edlund of Woodbury, Minn., found that his Saganaga Lake fishing cabin was underinsured, but he said he never considered giving up the property. Last summer was spent cleaning up debris and camping in a pole barn that survived the fire, and this year, Austin is helping frame up Edlund's new cabin on the footprint of his old one.

"I love that area, I love the fishing," Edlund said. "I don't look at the burned area and think it's ugly; I enjoy looking through the trees. It doesn't bother me at all."

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