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Wildfire forces evacuations on eastern Iron Range

HOYT LAKES, Minn. -- A wildfire prompted evacuations on the eastern Iron Range on Friday night as warm weather and tinder-dry ground created dangerous fire conditions across the region.

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An aerial view of burning vegetation at the wildfire east of Hoyt Lakes on May 6, 2016. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service)

HOYT LAKES, Minn. -- A wildfire prompted evacuations on the eastern Iron Range on Friday night as warm weather and tinder-dry ground created dangerous fire conditions across the region.

The U.S. Forest Service reported that a fire burning a few miles east of Hoyt Lakes, near Allen Junction Road and southeast toward the Skibo, Minn., area, had forced the evacuation of six to eight seasonal cabins.

The Northland Village assisted-living facility on the eastern side of Hoyt Lakes also was being evacuated as a precaution, authorities said, with residents being moved to the Aurora Community Center.

"For precautionary reasons they've evacuated some homes out in that area, and they've also evacuated the assisted-living home right on the edge of town," Hoyt Lakes City Councilor David Zins said.

Winds were gusty out of the northwest on Friday night -- which would bode well for Hoyt Lakes, pushing the flames in the opposite direction. But there were some concerns that "the wind (may) change later this evening, and because (the fire) isn't under control, they don't want to take a chance" with the residents of Northland Village, Zins said.

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Thick haze and smoke was reported in Hoyt Lakes and across much of the Northland on Friday night, ushered in on northwest winds from the massive wildfires in Canada. Scanner traffic indicated a succession of 911 calls from Northland residents concerned about smoke from a possible wildfire in their neighborhood -- only to have the source of the smoke attributed to the Canadian fires.

"You can't really see a plume (of smoke) -- you just see haze everywhere," Zins said of the scene in Hoyt Lakes.

The Forest Service reported that the Skibo fire was called in at about 3 p.m. and as of 6:30 p.m. was estimated at 100 acres and growing. Multiple ground crews and aircraft were fighting the fire, and were contending with the gusty northwest winds and haze.

As of 9:30 p.m., the Forest Service said, ground crews were continuing to work to protect private property in the path of the fire. Authorities had not been able to determine an updated size estimate.

The fire was initially reported as eight to 10 fires along railroad tracks and spread out to the southeast.

"The last report was that some of the fires had grown together," Forest Service public information officer Tim Engrav reported in a mid-evening news release. "Several structures are threatened and evacuations are underway in the Skibo Junction area."

Skibo is an incorporated settlement with only a handful of permanent residents. Engrav said an exact number of people was not immediately available.

A Forest Service Type 3 incident management team was managing the fire response Friday. Additional ground and air resources had been ordered, Engrav said. Crews from fire departments across the eastern Iron Range were being asked to respond to the scene Friday night.

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"I talked to the (East Range) chief of police a little while ago and he said they had sent out another page -- he said pretty much anybody north of Duluth that can fight fire, they were asking for assistance," Zins said at about 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Two Black Hawk helicopters were deployed to the Skibo fire on Friday, said Christi Powers, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center in Grand Rapids. A Chinook helicopter was expected to help fight the fire today in conjunction with the deployment of the Minnesota Army National Guard, she said.

Fire retardant was being sprayed on the Hoyt Lakes Golf Course on Friday night to try to prevent the fire from spreading, Powers said.
"We're ordering in resources from other states at this point and this looks to be a large fire," Powers said.

The Skibo fire was an indication of the dangerous fire conditions created when the humidity is low and the winds whip up, Powers said.

The fire danger today will depend on the wind, she said. Rainfall from storms on Friday was spotty and not enough to provide relief on its own -- but the forecast of lighter winds today could help.

Crews responded to a number of smaller fires across northern Minnesota on Friday, and continued mopping up some fires from earlier in the week. On days like Friday, with red flag warnings in effect and extremely dangerous fire conditions, the staff of the Interagency Fire Center puts in long hours.

"It's been very busy so the red flag warning did prove to be warranted. More than two-thirds of the state now is in critical to extreme fire conditions," Powers said.

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Forum News Service reporter Lisa Kaczke contributed to this report.

Related Topics: FIRESIRON RANGEHOYT LAKES
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