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As Greenwood fire rages on, northeastern Minnesota county declares emergency

U.S. Forest Service officials on Thursday said the fire had burned across 4,200 acres, or about 6.5 square miles, and continues to grow, especially during windy periods.

Greenwood Lake fire
The Greenwood Lake fire continued to advance north Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, pushed by gusty south winds, and was only about a mile from cabins in the McDougal chain of lakes area. Contributed / Superior National Forest
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NEAR GREENWOOD LAKE, Minn. — As the Greenwood Lake Fire continues to grow, Lake County on Thursday, Aug. 19, announced a state of emergency.

At a 2 p.m. meeting, the Lake County Board of Commissioners passed an emergency declaration resolution. Since its start on Aug. 15, the fire has forced evacuations and road closures in the Isabella, Minnesota, area.

Hot weather and winds continue to fan the flames, and the declaration should allow additional state and federal resources to be brought to bear on the fire.

The Greenwood Lake wildfire isn’t going away quietly and continues to grow in dry, breezy conditions despite a relentless attack by aerial and ground crews.

U.S. Forest Service officials on Thursday said the fire had burned across 4,200 acres, or about 6.5 square miles, and continues to grow, especially during windy periods.


Officials on Thursday proclaimed lightning as the likely cause of the fire that was first reported at about 3 p.m. Sunday just north of Greenwood Lake in Lake County, about 15 miles southwest of Isabella.

Since then, there has been an almost constant aerial attack on the fire during daylight hours, with multiple aircraft and helicopters trying to divert the head of the fire away from homes and cabins in the area, including around Sand Lake, the McDougal chain of lakes and the Stony River. Their efforts have paid off so far and no structures have been lost.

night fire photo
A photo of the Greenwood Lake Fire taken overnight Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. Contributed / U.S. Forest Service

A summerlong drought has spurred dozens of fires across northeastern Minnesota in recent weeks, but the Greenwood Lake Fire is the largest that has threatened developed areas. On Thursday afternoon, it was near 90 degrees in the area of the fire, with south winds gusting to 22 mph — exactly the kind of conditions that can cause fires to flare up and cover new ground. Continued dry and breezy conditions are forecast through Friday, with a good chance of rain forecast for Friday night.

Much of the area is under an evacuation notice from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, although many people have opted to stay at their homes and cabins even with the fire just a mile or so away. The fire has been burning in thick stands of spruce and balsam fir, which often ignite in fireballs, called torching, and which spur flaming embers to push ahead of the main fire, called spotting. That spotting can ignite more fires, including on building roofs, even miles ahead of the main fire.

As of Thursday, there were 145 wildland firefighters on the ground with 25 fire engines battling the blaze around its perimeter, but the fire was considered zero percent contained. In addition to the wildland teams on the ground, multiple fire departments from across the Northland have been sending engines and crews to stand guard and protect structures should the fire expand.

Related Topics: FIRES
John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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