More Evacuations Ordered Ahead of NE Minnesota Wildfire

ISABELLA, Minn. (AP) -- Authorities ordered more evacuations Monday near a quickly spreading wildfire that's one of several burning in northeastern Minnesota.

The Lake County Sheriff's Office said the new evacuations were happening near Grouse Lake and Mitewan Lake because of the growing Greenwood Lake fire, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) southwest of the town of Isabella in the Superior National Forest. Around 50 homes and cabins were covered by the order.

The evacuations follow the clearance of more than 100 homes and cabins in the area last week. The lightning-caused fire, which was first detected Aug. 15, had burned around nearly 14 square miles (36 square kilometers) as of Monday morning, which was unchanged from Sunday. But Clark McCreedy, public information officer for the interagency team managing the fire, said there was "substantial fire growth" Monday afternoon.

Th Greenwood Lake fire is one of several fires burning within the Superior National Forest. They prompted the closure of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Saturday for the first time in 45 years. Authorities said the closure allows crews to focus on existing and new fires and not camper safety. Rangers continued Monday to paddle and hike out to visitors in the vast wilderness area to alert them of the closure, which is scheduled to run at least through Friday.

Meanwhile, firefighters were working Monday to contain a dozen large northern California wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands of people to flee to safety. And a wildfire that's burned about 200 acres on Michigan's remote Isle Royale prompted the National Park Service to close some trails and campground areas on the wilderness island in Lake Superior.

The Greenwood Lake fire was threatening to cross Minnesota Highway 1, an east-west route through the forest that connects Ely with Lake Superior near Silver Bay. The highway had been closed near the fire as a precaution since last week. Also closed is Lake County Highway 2, which the fire jumped Friday.

A new Red Cross evacuation center was opened at the ice arena in Babbitt, well west of the fire, to complement one set up last week in the town of Finland, safely east of the fire.

The Forest Service said it brought in local contract loggers on Monday to work on fuel break projects at key locations to help stop the fire's spread.

The main worry that led to the Boundary Waters closure was the separate John Ek fire, which has burned about 800 acres (324 hectares) within the wilderness since it was detected Aug. 14. It was caused by a lightning strike south of Little Saganaga Lake. Because it's difficult to access by land or water, no crews are directly fighting it, save for some aerial water drops.

Forest Supervisor Connie Cummins elaborated Monday on her decisions to close the BWCA, saying in a video posted to social media that drought conditions have continued to worsen to levels "we have not seen to date."

"It's not a decision I make easily," Cummins said, acknowledging the impacts to businesses, visitors who've spent months planning trips and forest employees who've come to help from all over the country. The decision will be re-evaluated daily she said, and some areas may reopen sooner than others.