Winds worry fire crews as they battle to contain blaze near Ely
Helicopters, airplanes, fire engines, bulldozers and nearly 100 people on the ground are battling the Highway 1 fire just outside of Ely today, trying to keep the blaze in check as strong winds develop again.
The fire had burned across 220 acres by mid-morning and still is not officially under control, although it isn't considered a danger to the city at this time, said Mark Van Every, Kawishiwi District Ranger for the Superior National Forest.
"We didn't get any rain last night and the winds are supposed to come up pretty good again today,'' Van Every said. "We are still actively fighting this fire. We don't have any formal containment yet."
Minnesota's Arrowhead remains in a severe drought and temperatures today are expected to reach 80 in Ely with winds gusting from the south at 25 mph, again threatening to blow smoke, ash and maybe fire toward the city.
The fire started along Minnesota Highway 1 about a mile south of Ely just before 2 p.m. Thursday when a car ran over a downed power line, sending sparks into the dry woods. The fire raced north rapidly, pushed by winds gusting to 35 mph, and moved within 400 yards of homes within the city of Ely before a relentless aerial attack and slight wind shift combined to stop the fire's march.
The fire destroyed three outbuildings and burned up to and around several homes outside of town, but no homes were lost and no one was injured.
"The fire was so hot and so close to one of the houses that the glass windows broke,'' Van Every said, crediting both local volunteer fire engine crews and water drops from aircraft with saving several homes. "It's a miracle we didn't lose any homes yesterday."
A few families with homes in harm's way have been asked to stay out of the fire area as a precaution to the fire picking up again today. While the southeastern neighborhoods of Ely were evacuated for a few hours Thursday, no evacuations are in place as yet today.
Additional ground crews comprised of Minnesota teams from state and federal agencies as well as a regional National Forest Service hotshot team from Chicago are joining the fire today.
Several fires were reported across northern Minnesota on Thursday and lighting strikes overnight could spur more fires to develop today, officials said. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Forest Service have pilots flying across the region today to spot new areas of smoke.