A fire that broke out Wednesday in Beltrami Island State Forest south of Roseau, Minn., had consumed more than 2,000 acres by late afternoon, the Department of Natural Resources said.
Firefighters continued to battle the wind-driven blaze, which started northeast of Hayes Lake State Park near near Bemis Hill in Beaver Township.
The DNR described the blaze as a "continuous crown fire," meaning the flames were burning across the tops of the trees.
According to Adam Munstenteiger, area forestry supervisor for the DNR in Warroad, the Beltrami fire was about 4 miles long north to south as of 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. Driven by strong south winds, the fire had jumped the Thompson Forest Road east of Bemis Hill.
Munstenteiger estimated the fire by late afternoon had burned "the better part" of four or five sections-more than 2,000 acres-consuming high-value Norway pine and jackpine as it burned through the treetops.
"We're talking thousands and thousands of cords," he said.
As the fire burns north, it will change fuel types from upland pine to lowland conifer and eventually lowland hardwoods and aspen, Munstenteiger said. In the meantime, he said, the best firefighters can do is keep people safe and hope better conditions arrive sooner than later.
About 20 DNR personnel and maybe another dozen pieces of contract equipment were on site, he said, in addition to a helicopter and an air tanker.
"I hope by the time it changes fuel types, we'll be late enough in the burning period that maybe the fire intensity will die down a bit," Munstenteiger said. "Right now, we are short on aircraft because there are a couple of other fires going on in the state that had higher priorities.
"Right now, we're just losing timber resources-no structures or property loss at this point."
Munstenteiger said the fire is the worst he's seen as a forestry manager. Because of its size, he said he doesn't know how optimistic he can be about containing the blaze.
"They're forecasting the winds to diminish after midnight, and the humidity will come up so there's a chance we can start engaging the fire where it's actively burning," he said. "But, because we have 6-plus miles of fire line to deal with, it's not looking real good to get it contained."
Munstenteiger said early reports about concern for about 15 homes and cabins in the River Road area south of Bemis Hill were "a little bit premature" because the structures are south of the north-burning fire. Emergency managers had ordered an evacuation of the area, and Munstenteiger said the DNR also was working with law enforcement to notify landowners north of Bemis Hill area about the potential fire danger.
"It's a rapidly evolving situation," he said.
Carol Guy of Roseau and her husband, Bruce, have a cabin near the site of the fire. A kindergarten teacher in Roseau, Guy said she learned of the blaze through friends and co-workers who'd gotten an emergency alert.
"We didn't have enough moisture this winter, and now we don't have even a dewdrop," she said.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Guy said she could see smoke from the fire in Roseau about 20 miles north. She was keeping tabs on developments, and friends with permanent homes in the area, through Facebook.
As long as the fire moves north and away from the 14-acre property, Guy said all she could do was hope for the best. Concern will rise if wind switches to the north, she said.
"What can I do? Absolutely nothing," Guy said. "I can be thankful we're not there. I hope my neighbors are getting out.
"It's my cabin, it's not my home, yet," she said. "We plan on retiring there."