It takes more than firefighters to put out a fireby Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
Firefighters on the Ham Lake fire made more progress Tuesday. Officials say the fire is now more than half contained on the U.S. side, although it burned another 1,000 acres in Canada on Tuesday.
Some crews are being sent home; others are traveling north to keep fighting the fire in Ontario.
It's not just those on the fire line who've been working hard for the last ten days since the fire started. Cook County safety and health workers, and volunteers of all kinds have been pitching in.
Grand Marais, Minn. — In the little town of Grand Marais, and along the Gunflint Trail, people are neighbors, and they're used to helping each other out.
At Bethlehem Lutheran Church, pastor Mark Ditmanson has been hosting big crowds for breakfast and dinner every day for nearly a week.
"We got a call from our county health services to ask if we could put on a breakfast. I think that was last Thursday, but time is getting kind of confused," he said. "So we quickly put on a breakfast for what we thought would be 40 and it turned out to be 60. From that point on, it's been meals twice a day and we've hit the highest of 100 people and quite commonly we'll have 80 people for supper."
Of course, it's not just Bethlehem Church, but other churches and groups in town are supplying volunteers to help cook and serve. The Red Cross organizes it all and pays for the food. Even some of the people evacuated from the fire have been helping. And the other night, all 88 people at the dinner helped a teenager celebrate his birthday.
"What's it like having all these people come and invade your kitchen? They're such good cooks, and they really take over and do a super job," said Eleanor Waha, a member of Bethlehem Lutheran. Since the fire started, she's been at the church every day. "The people who have eaten here are so thankful for just the company. All of the churches have gotten together to serve and clean up. That's important, clean-up."
Across the street from the church, WTIP radio is tucked away in a corner of the high school. Since it got going eight years ago, the local public radio station has become a lifeline for people here.
Station manager Deb Benedict says it was volunteer announcers who decided WTIP should stay on the air all night Thursday, when the fire crossed Gunflint Lake and a big stretch of the trail was evacuated.
"C.J. Heitoff, one of our volunteers, brought her sleeping bag and pillow in, and as soon as we announced we were going to be on the air, several other people called and said they'd come in for two- or three-hour shifts," Heitoff said. "We had people calling all night and thanking us. We got a call from one of our friends who's an outfitter up the trail who decided to stay out at his property that night. The electricity was out, and he said he was watching the fire off in the distance, he had his sprinklers going and all he could hear was us, and he said it was such a gift. So just that phone call alone was worth it."
There seems to be no shortage of volunteers around here. One woman is even circulating a list of things to do for people who have been evacuated. She says they're mostly resort owners, they're used to working hard, and they're getting bored.
And then there's Larry Schei. He and a friend took advantage of a great volunteer job.
"We volunteered to move boats from Gunflint Lake to Sag Lake for fire crews to get to islands," he said. "That give us chance to go up the trail and see what had happened. And it was a nice experience because we went to our house, and I had a request to get two things: my wife's pillow, and water the flowers. And when we got to our house, the fire chief pulled in, and said there's 115 men working with picks and shovels about a quarter of a mile away, which is reassuring to a homewowner."
Those are some of the volunteers who've helped each other out during the Ham Lake fire.
- Morning Edition, 05/16/2007, 7:25 a.m.