Sue Ahrendt's blog of fireby Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
Life is starting to get back to normal for many people along the Gunflint Trail. The Ham Lake fire is 65 percent contained on the U.S. side. Thursday, people were allowed to return briefly to homes and cabins at the northern tip of the Trail, although the evacuation order remains in effect.
Campers and paddlers from around the country have been keeping up with events by checking on blogs written by some of outfitters.
Grand Marais, Minn. — Sue Ahrendt and her husband Andy own Tuscarora Lodge and Outfitters. This is just their fourth summer in business.
Sue started blogging over the winter.
"People want to know what the weather is up there. They want to know what happens day to day," she says. "Even if they only come for a week in the summer, there just are a lot of people that feel so connected with that area."
When she first started, she sometimes had trouble thinking of what to write about and what pictures to show. But for the last two weeks that hasn't been a problem.
The Ham Lake fire started very close to their business on Round Lake, just west of Gunflint Lake.
"Andy and I had been talking about how dry and hot it was in the days before," she recalls. "We were thinking, 'This isn't right, this isn't right for spring.' So when he came in Saturday morning the 5th and said, 'Do you smell smoke?' I sort of laughed at him and said we have it on the brain, we have to quit this sort of thing. About an hour later he came in, said 'There's a fire -- call.' And then he left."
He left to climb a hill on their property to try to see where the smoke was coming from. Sue called the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department.
"We could see that it was coming from the direction of Ham Lake, and everything just happened so fast, I've never seen one move like that," she says. "I haven't seen that many but I just wouldn't have believed how fast it could jump from tree to tree to tree, and we drove out through the flames."
Ahrendt and her two children have been living in Grand Marais while Andy has been housing and feeding firefighters at the lodge.
People say each fire has a personality, and Sue Ahrendt says she got to know this one pretty well. In her blog she teases herself for giving the fire human traits. But she says it sure seemed to behave intentionally at times: racing forward and threatening the areas kept wet and cool by sprinkler systems, and then swerving around them and moving on.
"It feels sometimes like it's evolving, too, to support its own life," she says. "It stays in the duff until the wind takes up and then it'll throw sparks. And it throws the heat ahead of it to dry the fuels further so when it gets there it burns more readily."
Ahrendt admits she's tired and "a little ditsy" about the fire, but she says "It does feel like we've got to fight this, it's a war kind of thing going on."
But in the same breath she adds, "It's just gorgeous too, and some of those days when they did the backburns, it's just beautiful at the same time as being so threatening."
She says the fire offers lots of lessons in letting go of the illusion of control.
"You try to plan the next thing and you try to tell people, and then you realize it really depends on the weather, it depends on the fire," she says. "We can mess around at the edges but we're at the edge of the wilderness, and it's going to be what it's going to be."
People have responded to her blog, expressing concern and offering help. Sue Ahrendt is confident the summer will turn out all right. She says everyone is pulling together, all the resort owners along the Gunflint Trail helping each other, and the people in Grand Marais making room during the evacuation.
"And then there's a whole group of visitors just as committed to the place, and they're not the kind of people that are going to bail because they heard there's a fire," she says. "The woods recover, and the people around it have that same sort of spirit."
For now, Sue and Andy Ahrendt are busy taking care of firefighters. But they hope to be able to reopen to visitors soon. And she'll be writing about all of it on her blog.
- Morning Edition, 05/18/2007, 7:25 a.m.