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Box 2129
Tofte, MN 55615

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Sawbill Newsletter Archives: September 2011
Current Sawbill Newsletter | « August 2011 | October 2011 »

9/30/11 - Not only is the fall weather good for daytime activities, it also makes for some beautiful clear evenings to enjoy outside. After relaxing around a campfire on one of these nights, the crew ventured down to the dock to look at the stars. We had heard from some customers that the northern lights made an appearance the night before, so our hopes were high. We were not disappointed. At first the lights remained a faint green glow over the horizon, but those of us who stayed out past midnight were rewarded with quite a show. Most of us agreed they were some of the best we had ever seen in Minnesota. Luckily our own Carl Hansen used his photography skills to capture the aurora borealis on film. So for those of you that couldn't see it in person, here's a little taste of a night in the Northwoods! Enjoy! -Liz

Just the beginning...

What a show!

9/30/11 - All campfire restrictions have been lifted, both within and outside the BWCA Wilderness. As always, fires are only allowed in the fire grates provided at each campsite in the BWCA Wilderness and all fires should be put out cold before being left unattended.

The Pagami Creek fire is officially 75% contained, but it is now highly unlikely that it will kick up into a major fire again. We expect that more routes to the west of Sawbill will be reopened soon. - Bill

9/29/11 - Here's the latest edition of the West End News from WTIP, North Shore Community Radio. - Bill

9/28/11- Fall in the Northwoods is not only a great place for grouse hunters, but also for those wanting to see some beautiful fall colors. The leaves are supposed to be at their peak this weekend, so I went for a drive today to scope out the view. What I saw was an interesting combination of trees- some that seem to be in their fiery red peaks, some that have lost their leaves already, and some that are still green! We think this variety is due to the extreme weather we've experienced this fall. With summer temperatures one day and snow the next, these trees don't know what season it is. Whatever the case, the combination of greens, golds, and reds makes for a lovely walk in the woods. -Liz

Fiery red maple leaves

A blend of colors on the Honeymoon Trail

Fall foliage on the Sawbill Trail

9/27/11- Grouse season is here! It has been an interesting season opener as many of the roads are closed in St. Louis, Lake and Cook Counties. There is an abundance of Conservation Officers around making sure that hunters and campers don't wander into any dangerous areas affected by the fire. With road closures being revised constantly, new areas for hunting are opening as the roads re-open. Those who are fortunate enough to be in the area when the roads open are guests to prime grouse hunting. We at Sawbill are among those fortunate people. So fortunate, in fact, that we have planned a grouse feast for crew member Tyler Campbell's 23rd birthday. -Luke

Homer inspecting our harvest for the day.

9/26/11- Soon after our entry point re-opened we received our first big outfitting assignment: supplying 46 fire fighters with 5000 calories worth of food per day for 7 days. Fire crews from all over the country have come to help, and are wiping out the freeze dried food selections from almost all the outfitters in the area. We ended up sending a total of 34 Duluth packs full of food, including but not limited to 20 lb. bags of meat per group, 6 pounds of cheese per group, and crazy amounts of coffee and cocoa. With Cindy's direction, the entire crew helped by cutting cheese, packaging bulk foods, preparing cookkits, or whatever else needed to be done.

Cindy Lou utilizing her phenomenal packing skills

A perfect fit! Delivered in style...

Although the fire is now 53% contained, there are still 968 incident personnel working for the next few weeks to make sure the fire doesn't continue to grow. If only we had any food left, we would love to help the remaining crews who still need outfitting. In total, we sent 10 aluminum canoes, 34 royalex canoes, 95 paddles, 88 life vests, and 34 Duluth packs stuffed with food to Kawishiwi Lake. Quite a change of pace after 8 days of being closed! -Liz

Fire trucks line the Kawishiwi Lake Road

Luckily, these fire crews had a Beaver (float plane) to portage these food packs!

9/23/11 - The Forest Service has decreased the size of the area that is closed due to the Pagami Creek fire. They have reopened a number of the roads south of the fire, but not all of them. Close to Sawbill, they have reopened the Parent Lake Road (CCHS #3) which is the road leading west toward Kawishiwi Lake. They also opened the Fourmile Grade Road (FR 170), which is the road that heads west of the Sawbill Trail toward Fourmile Lake and to the Trestle Inn, our favorite little backwoods bistro.

The Kawishiwi Lake and Hog Creek entry points are still closed, as is the Kawishiwi Lake Road (FR 354). - Bill

The new map of the closed area. The light green blob is the actual fire, the darker green is the closed area. Sawbill is on the right side of the closed area. I'll post a link to the high resolution map as soon as it appears on the Pagami Creek fire website.

9/22/11 - We just received news from the Forest Service that the fire ban has been reduced:

Effective as of 12:01 Friday, September 23, 2011:

The following are allowed:

Between the hours of 6:00 pm and midnight, building, maintaining, attending or using a campfire anywhere on national forest lands within the Superior National Forest, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

In a fee-for-use campgrounds, a campfire may be used at any time.

9/22/11 - Another cold, wet day at Sawbill - and we're happy to have it. In spite of the weather, the Forest Service is still in full fire fighting mode on the Pagami Creek fire. They've moved a bunch of firefighters into the Kawishiwi Lake area and have contracted with us to provide them with food and canoes. This is very nice for us because it replaces much of the income we lost over the eight days that we were closed.

The Forest Service has posted a bunch of images from the fire on Picasa. Pictures 142 and 143 are good images of the eastern-most tip of the fire, just south of Polly Lake and only about 8 miles from Sawbill.

Here is the latest issue of the Cook County West End News from WTIP North Shore Community Radio. - Bill

9/21/11 - We received another .6" of rain yesterday and there is more rain forecast for today. All the rain has put the fire down to the point that it would take some extraordinary warm, dry and windy weather to get it going again. Meanwhile, the 740+ firefighters, along with numerous aircraft, are making good progress on actually containing the fire.

The first canoeists are heading out of Sawbill this morning, now that the Sawbill Lake entry point and all the entry points east of Sawbill have reopened. A total fire ban remains in place, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it lifted soon, especially for the campgrounds outside the wilderness.

Here are four pictures that were taken on Polly Lake a week ago Monday. Photographer Hans Martin posted these on Facebook. This was the peak of the most extreme fire behavior in recorded history for the Midwest. The pictures show what caused the burning that is pictured from the air in the post below. All four pictures are taken on Polly Lake looking to the south. If the wind hadn't switched, this fire column would have arrived at Sawbill a little over an hour after these pictures were taken. We are very, very lucky. - Bill

Photo by Hans Martin taken on 9/12/2011 at Polly Lake.

Photo by Hans Martin taken on 9/12/2011 at Polly Lake.

Photo by Hans Martin taken on 9/12/2011 at Polly Lake.

Photo by Hans Martin taken on 9/12/2011 at Polly Lake.

9/19/11, 5 PM - Here is the map showing what part of the forest has been reopened. If you aren't familiar with the lakes, the route from Sawbill up to Cherokee and Long Island lakes is open and all the lakes east of that line is open. Everything west of the Sawbill, Cherokee, Long Island line is closed. No word on the fire ban yet. We're hoping for more rain in the next few days. - Bill


9/19/11, Noon - We are open for business again!!! In a nutshell, everything at Sawbill and east is open. All the roads and entry points west of the Sawbill Trail and east of the fire are still closed.

Here are some details: As of tomorrow, Tuesday, 9/20/11 the Sawbill Lake wilderness entry point is open, with travel restricted to routes north and east of Sawbill Lake. Baker Lake, Homer Lake and Brule Lake entry points are also open.

Also, starting tomorrow, the Sawbill Lake Campground, Crescent Lake Campground and Baker Lake Campground are open.

The Sawbill Trail will be open, the Grade Road (FR 170, the road to Brule, Crescent, etc.) will be open.

The Kawishiwi Lake and Hog Creek wilderness entry points will remain closed. All the roads going west off the northern half of the Sawbill Trail will remain closed.

The ban on open fires continues until further notice. Fires are banned in all of northeastern Minnesota right now. Grills and stoves are allowed.

We'll post more details here as they become available.

9/19/11, 7:30 AM - We received 6/10ths of an inch of rain yesterday. It would have been a welcome event in any case, but it should deal a major blow to the Pagami Creek Fire. That said, it is possible that the fire could revive itself, but the chance of that happening diminish with each day that we advance toward winter. - Bill

9/18/11, 7 PM - It has rained off and on all day. The rain gauge reads .52" of an inch so far and it's still raining.

Dennis Neitzke, District Ranger for the Gunflint District of the U.S. Forest Service, sent some pictures that he took from the air near Polly Lake yesterday. - Bill

Looking at Polly Lake from the south end looking mostly north. Townline Lake is the small lake in the middle of the picture. Picture taken 9/17/2011.

Also south of Polly Lake, but looking more to the west. The north end of Kawasachong Lake is on the left side of the picture, Polly is on the right and Townline in the middle. Picture taken 9/17/2011.

Looking almost due west from south of Polly Lake. Wolverine Lake is in the upper right. Picture taken 9/17/2011.

9/18/11 - Rain, rain, blessed rain. About 6:30 this morning, I was pleasantly awakened by the sound of rain on the roof. A steady, cool, widespread rain has been falling for several hours now. With the days ahead getting shorter, cooler and more humid, this rain should go a long way to assigning the Pagami Creek Fire to the history books. It's sure possible that the fire could kick up again, but the odds of that happening are diminishing by the hour. Yay!

The Forest Service will be meeting tomorrow to talk about lifting some of the road, campground and wilderness entry point closures. Of course, we'll post any changes here as soon as we hear about them.

I can't say thank you enough to everyone who contacted us to offer help, moral support and encouragement. I also can't begin to express my gratitude to the Forest Service, Cook County Sheriff's department, Minnesota conservation officers, Border Patrol and everyone else who has been working so hard to keep us all safe. - Bill

9/17/11 - Yesterday was another beautiful, quiet day at Sawbill. We went about our normal chores while keeping a nervous eye on the wind and the sky. It was warmer and breezy, but the Pagami Creek fire continues to be fairly dormant. The fire boss was quoted yesterday as saying "The fire is taking a nap right now, but we don't know what kind of mood it will be in when it wakes up."

Today's forecast is for sunny skies, warmer temperatures and a pretty brisk south wind. This will keep the fire from advancing toward Sawbill, but may drive it north into some of the canoe routes that are commonly accessed from Sawbill. We'll just have to wait and see...

Here is this week's edition of Cook County's West End News from WTIP, North Shore Community Radio. - Bill

9/16/11 9:45 AM - We just received this from the Forest Service. It is a total fire ban on the Superior National Forest, both in and out of the BWCA Wilderness:

FYI: The decision has been made to change campfire restrictions on the Superior National Forest.

This means that two previous Supervisor's Orders will be terminated: one regarding campfire use in the BWCAW and one regarding campfire use on national forest lands outside of the BWCAW.

In their place ONE new Order goes into effect at 12:01 am on Friday, September 16, 2011.

As of September 16 until further notice, it is prohibited to build, maintain, or use a fire or campfire, including charcoal fires, wood-burning camp stoves, and charcoal grills anywhere on national forest lands within the Superior National Forest, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Use of pressurized liquid gas stoves is allowed.

We anticipate by Friday morning the State will be issuing similar restrictions on areas outside of the Superior NF and we will coordinate on a public announcement with the intent of a consistent message to the public.

Our website, signage, etc will be updated to reflect this information.
The Supervisor's orders are posted on the Alerts section.

Apologies for confusion about the changes. Things have been happening pretty quickly.

9/16/11 - I can only describe it as "eerie" here at Sawbill right now. Outwardly, everything looks and smells like a normal, beautiful fall season. The sky is blue, there is a little frost this morning and not a trace of smoke smell. However, there are no campers in the campground, no leaf lookers stopping in the store and no canoeists embarking on wilderness trips. There is also a sense of palpable danger lurking, literally, right over the horizon. We are feeling relief and dread at the same time.

The weather is going to warm up today and winds will increase from the south west, which may bring the fire closer to us today. We will just have to wait and see. We will be running our sprinklers again today, just to be on the safe side.

All the entry point closures and campground closures remain in place and are likely to stay closed for awhile. Brule Lake is open to camping and canoeing, but you have to camp on Brule Lake.

Thanks again to everyone who has sent expressions of support. It is really gratifying to know how many people love this little corner of the world! - Bill

9/15/11 - Not much news to report this morning. The fire has been largely dormant for the last two days. The information coming from the Forest Service about the fire has been particularly poor. It may be a jurisdictional problem as the fire is actually located in a different Forest Service district and county. Our local Forest Service office has been great, as usual, but even they aren't getting timely information about the fire. A new management team is taking over the fire today. They are experts that travel the country to manage large fires, so I expect that communications will improve.

All the BWCA Wilderness entry points in our area remain closed, except for Brule Lake, where you are allowed to camp on Brule Lake only. The Temperance River campground (located on the Sawbill Trail, 10 miles north of Tofte) is open, but the Sawbill Lake and Crescent Lake campgrounds are closed. They are telling us that they will be closed through this coming weekend. We will post any changes to closures here as soon as we hear about them.

We ended up with .11" of moisture in the form of snow yesterday. We love snow, but this was particularly welcome. We are safe and sound here at Sawbill. Thanks again to everyone who has sent good thoughts or offered to help. The response has been truly overwhelming and touching. - Bill

Carl Hansen, Bill Hansen, Liz Foot and Tyler Campbell are happy to see snow!

Snow collected at the base of a steep roof.

9/14/11, 1 p.m. - Although it only lasted a few minutes, we received our first snow shower of the season this morning. The snow may not make a huge dent in the forest fire, but it was a nice morale boost.

First snow this Fall!

9/14/11 8:30 am - Well, we are still here and the forest is still green here at Sawbill, at least for the time being. Even though the wind was blowing straight from the fire toward us yesterday, the rain showers and colder temperatures kept it from moving toward us in any significant way. This morning, the wind is strong but blowing the fire and smoke away from us. We received another .12" of rain last night and the temperature is 36 degrees this morning. As I write this it is actually snowing lightly. This is all good news for our surviving this fire in one piece.

The Pagami Creek fire now stands at 100,000 acres. The Forest Service tells us that they expect the fire to stay relatively calm through the next few days of cool, damp weather, but if it drys out and warms up it could grow again. All the Superior National Forest around Sawbill is closed for camping, except they are allowing people to camp on Brule Lake only. There are no reports of injuries and no structures have burned.

Here at Sawbill, we pumped more than 50,000 gallons of water on our property through our sprinkler system. More updates to come. - Bill

Map of the Pagami Creek fire. Sawbill is on the far right. The fire made it almost to Hazel Lake on the Lady Chain route. The south shore of Polly and Kawaschong Lake (just north of Kawishiwi Lake) burned. Otherwise, no other canoe routes in the Sawbill area have burned.

9/13/11 3:45 pm - The Pagami Lake fire is now over 60,000 acres. Therefore, all entry points in the BWCAW south of Moose Lake and east to the Gunflint Trail have been closed with these exceptions: Brule Lake (only), Seagull Lake (only), Saganaga (only), Granite river, and the Vento unit. For the entry points that remain open, campers must remain on those lakes, with no overnight camping elsewhere. Area campgrounds have been closed and evacuated as well. Campers already in the BWCAW are being notified and told to exit. For now, the Tofte and Gunflint districts are still fire-free. The closures and evacuations in these areas are purely precautionary. Public safety is the Forest Service's main concern. In order to concentrate on the fire itself, they need to limit public access to the wilderness.

Here at Sawbill we have spent the day preparing for whatever may come. Our sprinkler system is doing its job, and even received a bit of a water power upgrade today when the original installer, Michael Valentini, showed up. Currently we even have blue, smoke free skies. We have been overwhelmed all day by the outpouring of support from our customers and the community. Thanks to everyone (you know who you are) who has offered us lodging, food, transportation, storage, moral support and more. We are truly touched.

9/13/11 - 7:40 am. We are still here, but the news is not very good this morning. The Pagami Creek fire made a 15 mile run yesterday, mostly to the north and east. The Forest Service pilot this morning is reporting that the fire reached the south shore of Polly Lake and some canoeists who paddled from Polly to Kawishiwi Lake reported fire on both sides of the route. We haven't heard an official report of the total size of the fire, but it's likely that the fire is over 20,000 acres now, which makes it one of the largest fires in Minnesota's history.

The Forest Service is evacuating all the canoe parties that are west of Sawbill today. The entry points to the east of us, Baker Lake, Homer Lake and Brule Lake remain open, but the smoke will likely be bad today with west winds predicted. Public safety is their top concern and they are trying to stay at least 24 hours ahead of the fire with evacuations. If you are holding a wilderness entry permit for the Kawishiwi Lake, Hog Creek or Sawbill entry points, the Forest Service will be calling you to help you relocate to other entry points.

The good news is that we received almost .2" of rain yesterday and there are showers predicted for today. The temperature has dropped dramatically and frost is predicted for tonight. Although strong westerly winds are predicted for today, which will move the fire toward us, the winds are supposed to switch to northwesterly later today which should move the fire away from us.

Right here at Sawbill we have a very effective outdoor sprinkler system, so we are relatively confident that our buildings will survive even if the fire sweeps through here. While this is all very scary and upsetting, wildfire is inevitable in this ecosystem. It really isn't a matter of if there will be a fire, it's just a matter of when.

We'll post regular updates here. Keep us in your thoughts. - Bill

9/12/11- The Pagami Lake fire, which began burning mid-August, is now having a direct impact on the Sawbill area. While the fire itself is still more than 20 miles west of Sawbill Lake, we have been seeing an increasingly impressive smoke cloud in the past few days, and have noticed falling ash as well as a distinct campfire smell in the air.

9/10/11-On an otherwise bluebird day, the smoke cloud made for a nice sunset

On 9/11/11 the fire was estimated to cover around 4,000 acres. By this morning, the fire was close to 11,000 acres and growing. It is estimated that by the end of today the fire will cover around 20,000 acres. As a precaution the Sawbill, Kawishiwi, and Hog Creek entry points have been closed temporarily. Canoeists on the Lady Chain and farther west have been evacuated, as well as campers in the Sawbill campground. Also as a precautionary measure, permits for these lakes and reservations for the campground have been canceled until Saturday, and campers will not be allowed entry unless conditions change. As we receive new information, we will continue to post updates on our newsletter.

This was the cloud of smoke as seen from the landing on Sawbill Lake mid-afternoon 9/12/11

Currently Sawbill Lake and the surrounding routes are not in imminent danger. The weather forecast calls for rain and cooler temperatures, which will hopefully slow down the progress of the fire as well. For continuing updates and more specific information about entry point closures, fire restrictions, and other details about the fire, please visit this website:

Visibility was low as the smoke settled in late afternoon
While it looked ominous for an hour or so, eventually the smoke cleared

9/11/11- We normally eat well here at Sawbill, but lately we had a very special treat. While "surf 'n' turf" in the north woods may lead you to envision walleye and venison, the crew recently sunk their teeth into a dinner of Maine lobster and grass-fed steak. The little crustaceans were sent live from Maine along with some clams and chowder mixes, all courtesy of an old friend of Cindy's, Mr. Paul Dietl. Although we aren't particularly well versed in the cooking methods for these little critters, chef Andy took on the challenge and had great success. I think it's safe to say everyone came away from the table full and happy. Thanks Paul! -Liz

Andy holds the liveliest lobster of the bunch

The lobsters were boiled to ruby red perfection

9/9/2011 - We had some big excitement recently when three heavy hauler trucks got lost and ended up here at the end of the Sawbill Trail. They were hauling dormitory units from the oil sands of Manitoba to the oil fields of North Dakota. They had to take to the back roads because they were too tall to fit under the railroad overpasses at Taconite Harbor.

Two of the rigs were too big to turn around here at Sawbill, so they laboriously hooked and unhooked the tractors to gradually work all three of them around the corners. Although it took over three hours, the drivers were very careful and accommodating. They were careful to do no damage and apologized graciously when they were through. The mistake that landed them here was not their mistake, but they handled the situation with great professionalism. - Bill

Three very large, very lost trucks.

Inching around the corner.

Heavy hauling truck vs Sawbill golf cart.

For more details and other news, you can listen to this week's edition of Cook County West End News from WTIP, North Shore Community Radio.

9/5/11 - The Labor Day weekend is winding down for another year. It brought us many old friends, a few new friends, our first real fall weather and some excellent live acoustic music. Although the passing of Labor Day represents the end of the busy season, a lot of time for fabulous canoeing remains. We have the fall colors, bird migrations, crisp nights and lightly traveled canoe routes to look forward to. If you can possibly get away for a canoe trip, now is the time to do it - permits are widely available and just look at this forecast for the next week. - Bill

BWCA Wilderness weather forecast for September 5th - 9th. The extended forecast shows more of the same.

9/1/11 - Today is Sawbill Outfitters founder Mary Alice Hansen's birthday! I won't say how old she is, but if you know how many keys a piano has... Her email is if you want to send her a greeting. - Bill

Happy Birthday Mary Alice.

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