Busy weekend in the Boundary Waters could also be dangerously dry

Campsite in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Photo Getty Images.

Permits to enter the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness this Memorial Day holiday weekend, are almost entirely reserved.

The wilderness was just reopened to overnight visitors this week, and people eager to experience canoe country are apparently poised to push it to its carrying capacity. As of this writing, only seven overnight paddle entry points have any permits available for Friday, of more than 50 total paddle entry points.

Groups of wilderness visitors are asked to avoid gathering in large crowds, particularly at entry points and portages.

With the high number of people and dry conditions, officials are concerned about high fire risk in the area. Campfires are currently allowed.

“With fire danger increasing throughout Northern Minnesota, campers and day use visitors in the National Forests should be extra vigilant when building and extinguishing campfires,” said a joint statement from the Chippewa and Superior National Forests. “With the lack of moisture and increase in temperatures, there is the potential for any escaped fire to spread rapidly, especially on windy days.”

The Superior National Forest says half of all wildfires in the Boundary Waters are caused by escaped campfires.

While fire is a natural and important part of the Boundary Waters ecosystem, they can cause serious damage to people and property outside the wilderness.

“As the effects of climate change become more pronounced, forest fires across the country are becoming more common and more severe,” say the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. “In the summer months, forest fires pose a continual risk to the Boundary Waters.”

Much of the region has received far less precipitation so far this spring than usual, including parts that have only gotten 25 to 50 percent their usual rainfall. The weather forecast for the weekend offers some hope — with a chance of rain on Saturday and Sunday. But there will also be gusty winds, and possible thunderstorms that could produce lightning and start fires.

A BWCAW campfire. Photo by Greg Seitz.

Safer fires

Here are tips from the U.S. Forest Service to help prevent starting wildfires while camping:

  • Think before you strike. Check for burning restrictions and monitor for extreme fire behavior signs, i.e. high winds and temperatures.
  • Use the provided fire rings at dispersed campsites and established fire grates at Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) campsites.
  • Select a level spot a safe distance away from trees, low overhead branches, shrubs, dry grass, or logs to prevent the fire from escaping. Clear all flammable material within 5 feet.
  • Have a shovel and water available at the campfire site for extinguishing campfires.
  • Supervise the fire at all times. Even a light breeze could cause the fire to spread.
  • Extinguish the campfire with water using the “drown and stir” method, make sure it is cold to the touch before leaving the area.
  • Limit fires to night-time hours on hot, dry windy days.

More information:

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