BWCA fires contained, but impact fears smolderby Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
The Cavity Lake fire is now just a scatter of smoldering vegetation in the northeastern corner of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Fire managers are confident it won't erupt again to threaten homes and resorts along the Gunflint Trail. They've even stopped the fire's spread to the west.
The Forest Service is reopening Boundary Waters entry points and canoe portages.
But some outfitters and resort owners are still nervous about their bottom line.
Gunflint Trail, Minn. — At the height of the fire, managers held daily briefings for people living along the Gunflint Trail. Now, they're just doing it once or twice a week. At the last one, District Ranger Dennis Neitzke offered some good news. Most of the campsites, even where the fire burned hottest, are useable.
"I'm actually quite stunned at how well most of the campsites look," Neitzke says. "There's a few that are blackened out there. But the ones that'll be open are not bad. There's going to be a few latrine trails that are into the black, and you may be kind of sitting out in the open as you sit on the latrine, so it's a wilderness experience for sure."
And residents offered a round of applause for the national fire team as it turned over responsibility for the fire to a Minnesota team.
But back at their camps, outfitters are looking around at their canoe racks and landings, and thinking it's quieter than it should be in August.
Mike Prom owns Voyageur Canoe Outfitters between Saganaga Lake and Seagull Lake, just a few miles from the eastern edge of the fire.
He lost nearly a quarter of his business for the month after the fire started. But he can understand that. It's the future that worries him.
"It's the people who've made decisions to either go in other parts of the Boundary Waters or do a completely different vacation for the end of August and September," he says. "That's where we're starting to see we're not getting the reservations that we normally do this time."
Prom says it reminds him of the 1999 blowdown. People saw media coverage and got the idea there wasn't a tree left standing in the Boundary Waters.
"The Boundary Waters and the Quetico Park is 3 million acres, and 30,000 acres is a spot on that map," he points out. "It isn't this huge chunk of thing. It was a huge fire, but you can easily not paddle near it."
That's what the Cashman family did. They drove up from Eagan last weekend. Paulette Cashman says they had to get a permit for a different entry point, but they never even thought about not coming.
"I was a little concerned because my son has asthma that is a lot of times smoke-induced, so we did bring an extra inhaler, and that was the only thing I questioned," she says. "But we never saw even any smoke. The fish were jumping; we didn't catch any, but really, no signs that there was even a problem, once we got in."
Some outfitters have made up some of their losses by providing supplies and services to firefighting crews. The national firefighting team is close to self-sufficient. But there are still a lot of things they need to buy locally, especially here in the Boundary Waters.
In a trailer at the fire headquarters, about a dozen people keep track of expenses.
Section Chief Jamie Parker says the team buys as much as it can locally, to help businesses affected by the fire.
"We've used the outfitters for food, lodging, all the boats and canoes, the outhouses, the dumpsters," she says. "It's just a variety of things that we get locally to support our camps."
So far the fire has cost about $8 million. A third of that is for airplanes and helicopters. About half a million went to local businesses.
The money comes from the U.S. Forest Service budget.
Down the Gunflint Trail at Hungry Jack Outfitters, Dave Seaton rolls up sleeping pads for a group leaving soon.
He says he's taking lots of calls from people wondering what it's really like up here. He tells them they can easily avoid the burned areas, or paddle past them in a day.
And he says there'll be special treats in the next few years.
"The area that burned is jack pine and white pine forest. That section of the BWCA burns about every 15 years," he says. "The first thing to come back is fireweed and blueberries. And then the morel mushrooms wherever there's still enough soil. So I'm kind of looking forward to that."
Seaton says the fire offers an unusual chance to watch nature at work.
- Morning Edition, 08/04/2006, 7:24 a.m.