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Lightning strike sparks another fire in Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Crews used a helicopter to help locate hotspots Thursday morning.
The Hassel Fire.

The Hassel Fire.

For the second time in recent weeks, a lightning strike has caused a wildfire in Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (NWCAW).

Authorities first detected the wildfire on June 4 just southwest of Hassel Lake (which is about 10 miles northeast of Tower, Minnesota) in the BWCAW. While the fire is small, its location " is away from any lakes or portages north of Boulder Lake so access on the ground is difficult," the Superior National Forest said in an update.

There are currently 27 personnel on the scene, according to the Incident Information System, with a food resupply on the way for those responders camping in the wilderness.

Since then, firefighters have worked to map and control the Hassel Fire, which is about 50% contained as of Thursday morning, according to Superior National Forest. It's estimated to be about 21 acres in size, and there are a handful of lake, campsite and portage closures still in effect.

But  they've made "good progress" in terms of keeping the fire small and contained, Tim Engrav, public information officer with the Superior National Forest, told Bring Me The News. Crews have pumps and water hose lines around most of the fire, and on Thursday morning they used an infrared helicopter to locate hotspots that need to be addressed.

While temperatures have been quite high, an increase in humidity and a few bursts of rain have helped keep a lid on the blaze, Engrav said. 

In mid-May, crews battled the significantly larger Bezhik Wildifre a bit to the Hassel Fire's north. That one, also believed to be caused by a lightning strike, grew to more than 900 acres, moving through the forest and destroying some private property, including a cabin.

Engrav said the safety of people and property is always a concern, and something they're monitoring with the Hassel Fire as well. 

As for damage to the BWCAW itself, Engrav said the landscape's signature boreal forest "is a fire-dependent ecosystem, historically," with fires moving through the area pre-European settlement. (Though research suggests fires are occurring more frequently in these forests, which is a cause for concern.)

"If fire stays in the understory, and doesn't reach up into the crowns of the trees, it actually can have some ecological benefit," he said, noting the red and white pine stands "can handle ground fire moving through, and it actually helps them."

It's when the flames reach the high tops of the canopy that the fire can become quite damaging, burning through ecologically valuable tree species and spreading more rapidly.

The plan for the Hassel Fire now is to begin attacking its edges, moving inward toward the interior to extinguish pockets of heat, Engrav said. And while conditions can always change, "things are looking good" for keeping the blaze contained. 

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