The Pagami Creek Fire in northern Minnesota has grown from a small fire a few days ago to a roaring 100,000+ acre monster that is shrouding Milwaukee and Chicago in smoke and forcing the Milwaukee Brewers to close the roof at Miller Park because of the lingering haze. It’s the first major fire in northern Minnesota since the 2007 Ham Lake Fire and the biggest fire in the state since the 1918 Cloquet/Moose Lake fires.
Honestly, I’m surprised it took this long for another major fire to break out. Drought conditions have prevailed over the northern half of the state for the better part of two years. With all the people who visit the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the ongoing threat of lightning from storms, it really is miraculous that it took this long for a major fire to break out. The cause of the Pagami Creek Fire is being attributed to lightning. High winds caused the fire to increase in size from 16,000 acres on Sunday to more than 60,000 on Monday. As of the time this blog post goes live, the state is estimating the fire to be over 100,000 acres or 10x it’s reported size yesterday morning.
As with most fires of this size and in this region, it may be winter before the fire completely dies out and the smoldering stops. Unlike the 2007 Ham Lake Fire, the Pagami Creek Fire has not been a major threat to homes and structures yet. The Ham Lake Fire destroyed more than 30 structures as it tore across the northern section of the Gunflint Trail. Whether or not the Pagami Creek Fire has a similar impact remains to be seen. It’s still early in this fire’s life cycle.
The photos below were shot from about 4,000 feet and about 10-12 miles north of Isabella, Minn. The fire was heading away from Isabella at the time, but seeing as how it jumped 17 miles in one day, people in those communities are hoping the wind stays in their favor. Fires like this are scary things, but they are also a natural part of the forest cycle. It was incredible looking out one side of the plane and seeing regular green forest and on the other side, incredible plumes of smoke, jumping flames and smoke as far as the eye could see. Here are a few photos from Tuesday afternoon while covering the fire for Minnesota Public Radio…