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A Blackhawk helicopter carries water to a hot spot in the Juneberry 3 fire in Roseau County, Minnesota, just south of the Canadian border Friday afternoon Oct. 7, 2011. The fire started Wednesday 10 miles northwest of Greenbush, Minn. John Stennes / Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald

Pagami fire 'spots' outside line

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Pagami fire 'spots' outside line
Cloquet Minnesota 122 Avenue C 55720

The Pagami Creek fire in the Superior National Forest jumped outside its perimeter in spots in recent days fanned by strong winds in tinder-dry conditions.

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Trees inside the perimeter of the fire burned as well, sending embers in the wind that landed and started new fires that ground and air crews immediately attacked.

Daria Day, an information officer assigned to the fire, said that despite the wind challenge, "we managed to hold our own." She said wind gusts reached as high as 36 mph with a sustained wind in the teens.

She said the southeast wind pushed smoke across the Fernberg Trail area, alarming residents there. The smoke was from unburned "islands" within the fire perimeter, Day said.

Most of the effort now is aimed at the east end of the 93,000-acre fire that is considered about 71 percent contained. "We've been hammering at those spots," Day said of the few new fires outside the contained area.

Other fires also are burning in northern Minnesota, including a 38,000-acre fire near Greenbush in northwestern Minnesota. Gov. Mark Dayton Friday sent two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters to Roseau to join other aircraft already fighting the fire, called the Juneberry 3 fire. Winds in that area of the state gusted to 50 mph Friday.

The wind knocked power out in areas and led to numerous "little fires," said Jean Goad from the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center. She said the Juneberry fire had slowed despite the wind. "Things are OK," she said, hoping for a better assessment of that fire Saturday.

The weekend is expected to remain windy and dry, although Day reported a sprinkling of rain in Ely Friday night.

Another Blackhawk is stationed in Ely as a precaution to evacuate any firefighters in harm's way should the Pagami fire rapidly advance.

Several smaller fires were reported in recent days, requiring fast action by water-dropping aircraft and ground crews to save structures. A 10-acre fire smoldering since Aug. 28 near Tooth Lake in Voyageurs National Park flared up Thursday and is expected to grow again Saturday. So far the park service has opted to let that fire burn because of its remote location.

Fire crews have been standing by at forestry stations across the state, but resources are stretched thin because so many areas are dry and so many fires are starting each day, fire officials said. Additional crews are being called in from other states.

Weeks without much rain, near-record-high temperatures and near-gale-force winds have combined to push fire danger up across Minnesota and spur officials to issue a red-flag fire-danger warning until 7 p.m. Saturday.

Duluth is more than 3.31 inches below normal for rainfall since Sept. 1, and some areas are even dryer, although some rain was expected overnight. Winds will gust again Saturday, up to 25 mph, but are forecast to diminish tonight.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources banned all outdoor fires in the state until further notice, including fireworks and brush fires, with campfires allowed only in designated fire receptacles designed for such at a cabin, home, developed campground or resort.

The Chippewa and Superior National Forests also have banned all campfires and charcoal fires at all times, except in grates at developed campgrounds. Gas stoves are allowed.

The National Drought Monitor reports much of St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties are locked in a moderate to severe drought. The Minnesota Office of Climatology reported this week that September was among the driest in recorded history across much of Minnesota, with rainfall levels at or near historic low levels

Many of Minnesota's largest wildfires, including the Moose Lake-Cloquet fire of 1918, have occurred in autumn.

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John Myers
(218) 723-5344
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