Calmer winds, cooler temperatures and a few moments of sleet and light snow brought encouragement Wednesday as firefighters continued efforts to contain a blaze that was in a “pause mode” — days after it moved at breakneck speeds, swallowing nearly 160 square miles of forest along the Minnesota-Canada border.
The fire in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is one of the largest on record in the state, and just under half of the access points into the wilderness were closed to campers by midday Wednesday. Less than 50 buildings — including cabins — had been evacuated.
Plumes of smoke from the fire drifted into Michigan, Wisconsin and northern Illinois on Tuesday, but the plume had largely dissipated by Wednesday because of the drop in heat and wind, and it was less visible because of overcast skies, said Mary Shedd, a Forest Service spokeswoman in Isabella.
What remained of the plume was expected to continue to move southeast. Officials in southern Wisconsin said the air quality in that part of the state would be unhealthy for everyone until late Wednesday.
Jim Grant, from the U.S. Forest Service, said about 300 firefighters were on the ground. Becca Manlove, a spokeswoman at a fire information line, said the northwest corner of the fire was looking good. Elsewhere, officials were using airplanes and helicopters to drop water on the fire. Crews on the south end were using bulldozers to clear trees and keep the fire from spreading.
Becca Manlove, a spokeswoman at a fire information line, said, “It’s helping,” of the small snow shower Wednesday. “It’s not anywhere near a wet blanket on the fire by any means. Three days of a nice, solid rain would be nicer than that little shower.”