As of Saturday morning, the Ham Lake fire in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area was only a mere 3-5 miles away from their homes on Poplar Lake along the Gunflint Trail.
At this point, two area families can only hope and pray that the path of the fire, which has grown to nearly 86 square miles, will change and won't engulf their homes - but they aren't optimistic.
Jan and Rod Johnson, owners of Silver Creek Traders in Pequot Lakes, evacuated their home on the west side of Poplar Lake along the Gunflint Trail Thursday night, taking with them many of their antiques and other treasured items.
"All of a sudden on Thursday the wind had shifted and suddenly we got this wall of smoke, like a thundercloud was coming," said Jan Johnson. "It was crazy."
The Johnsons, under a mandatory evacuation Thursday night, headed to Grand Marais and met up with other friends who had been evacuated.
"You couldn't see the lake above the hill in Grand Marais," Johnson said, because of the smoke. "It seems like it's got to be so bad for the earth. I just want to cry. It's terrible."
Gaynard and Shari Brown, Breezy Point, have owned a cabin on the east side of Poplar Lake for the past 15 years. The cabin is about 5 miles directly east of the fire. Gaynard Brown was told by fire officials in Grand Marais early Saturday that while the wind was coming out of the north Saturday and expected to come from the south on Sunday, the prevailing west wind still could mean the fire is heading directly toward their cabin. In addition, a large forested area south of Poplar Lake contains blowdown from the 1999 storm and prescribed burns had not been performed there, providing considerable fuel for the already massive fire.
Three to five miles isn't much distance between the fire and cabin when you consider the fire engulfed 13 miles on Thursday alone. Brown said he got out his insurance papers on Thursday and called his insurance agent to make sure they were covered. He had planned to go up to the cabin Saturday to pack up important items and mementos. He said he wishes he could get a journal at their cabin, which contains the names of everyone who has ever stayed at their cabin.
If fire does take their cabin and the woods and trees around it, Brown said he and his family would naturally be upset but they would likely rebuild. They love it up there.
"We don't want to own a piece of charred rock but we might," said Brown. "Whenever this fire gets over, there will still be a lot of beauty up there, even if it wipes out our cabin."
The Johnsons said they'll probably move if fire does destroy the natural beauty surrounding their home.
"We don't want to live there if the trees are gone," said Johnson. "If everything's burned around you, what's the fun of the Gunflint Trail? ... It's like it's not real. We really value the countryside up there. I would cry more for the precious tree in our yard that is more than 400 years old than our house. It's the property, not the house, that really bothers me."
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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