The Pagami Creek fire continued to march south and east in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on Sunday. Over the weekend, the estimated size of the fire-damaged area grew by more than 40 percent, from 3,200 acres Saturday morning to 4,500 acres Sunday.
Extremely dry conditions, high temperatures, low humidity and winds out of the northwest fanned the fire Sunday, according to Mark Van Every, a district ranger for the Lake Superior Forest.
Firefighters took action to keep the fire from spreading to the north and west, where it could have threatened private property in the Fernberg corridor.
However, Van Every said crews are allowing the fire to run its course to the south and east for now, monitoring the progress of flames. The fire was first detected Aug. 18 and was probably caused by a lightning strike.
“As with other fires, when this fire was detected, we evaluated the opportunity for fire to play its natural role in the wilderness,” said Van Every. “We made the decision to monitor it and contain it to keep it from escaping the wilderness.”
To ensure visitors remain safe, the Forest Service has temporarily halted all access to the BWCAW through Lake One, Snake River, the Little Isabella River, Bog Lake, the Pow Wow Trail, Isabella Lake and Island River. People with prior permits to enter through the lake are being redirected to other entry points. People already in the wilderness who wish to exit may still use these lakes to do so.
Assistance retrieving vehicles will be offered to paddlers who decide to exit from a different point than originally planned in order to avoid the fire zone.
Crews also are asking visitors to move off Lakes Two and Three, all the way east to Hudson Lake. Paddlers have been asked to avoid Fire Lake, Bridge Lake, Rifle Lake, the Wilders, Horseshoe, Pagami, Clearwater, Isabella Lake and the Isabella River. Several portages in the area of the fire have been temporarily closed, as well. Campsites on the south end of Bald Eagle Lake are temporarily off limits, too.
“The fire is not an imminent threat to any visitors right now, but we want to keep ahead of it,” Van Every said.
About 65 people are now working the fire, monitoring its progress and sweeping out to intercept and warn visitors to the area.
Because of recent drought conditions, campfires in the BWCAW are now restricted to between 6 p.m. and midnight.