FINLAND, Minn. — The U.S. Forest Service on Saturday closed the popular Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota as the largest active wildfire in the state threatens the 1-million-acre property.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness stopped issuing entry permits Saturday, closing all land, water, trails, portages, campsites, canoe routes and wilderness entry points until Aug. 27.
The Boundary Waters in the Superior National Forest is one of the most visited federally designated wilderness areas.
The Greenwood fire in the forest remained uncontrolled Saturday and had spread to about 14 square miles (36 square kilometers). About 250 firefighters were battling the blaze.
Efforts are now underway to reach paddlers and hikers across the vast wilderness, said Superior National Forest spokesperson Joanna Gilkeson.
"Currently we have wilderness rangers paddling in the Boundary Waters to sweep people from the areas, and we're trying to do a systematic sweep," Gilkeson told Minnesota Public Radio.
Rangers are beginning on the east side of the BWCA and moving to western areas where a large closure order has been in place for more than a month due to concerns about wildfires just across the border in Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park. That means there are fewer visitors in the western reaches of the wilderness.
The Lake County Sheriff's Office had ordered residents of about 245 homes and cabins to evacuate in areas around McDougal Lake, Sand Lake, the Highway 2 corridor, and north of Highway 1 in the vicinity of East and West Chub Lakes, Jackpot Lake and Slate Lake.
No structures have been damaged and no injuries have been reported, officials said.
Temperatures were lower Saturday, humidity was higher and skies were cloudy — all factors that can help moderate fire behavior by blocking the sun from the forest floor, aid Clark McCreedy, a spokesperson for the multiagency team fighting the blaze.
"Nonetheless, it's already dry because we didn't get enough precipitation out of that weather last night," he told the Star Tribune.
Sprinkles of precipitation Friday and Saturday did little to help firefighting efforts.
"Enough to settle the dust, little more than that," McCreedy said. "With fire, we're always at the mercy of the weather."
Drought conditions in western states, which extend as far east as Minnesota, are fueling around 100 wildfires. California has already surpassed the acreage burned at this point last year, which ended up setting the record. In northeastern Minnesota, heat, low humidity and a tinder-dry forest have fueled the Greenwood Lake fire, one of several burning inside and outside the Boundary Waters.