The calls started mid-morning on Thursday. “I see smoke coming from your direction. Anything going on?” After the big forest fires of 2006 and 2007, as well as the Hungry Jack Lodge fire last winter, the residents of the Gunflint Trail are wary of smoke.
This time, luckily, the source of the smoke was fairly innocuous. The forest service is burning the world’s biggest brush pile back in the gravel pit next to the Poplar Creek ski trail. As a local service, Cook county residents and contractors are allowed to dump brush in this area; periodically the forest service manages a controlled burn of the pile.
The dry weather of the past few years made it difficult to schedule a safe opportunity to set the mound afire. The hill gradually developed massive proportions, like a brush pile on steroids. Vast heaps of scraggly balsams, dead birch trees and discarded dock sections (which shouldn’t have been dumped there) gradually over-ran the Poplar Creek ski trail. It was beginning to look like if only we received enough snow, then we could open a new ski hill on top of the brush pile.
A few weeks ago the forest service decided to hire a heavy equipment operator to push the debris off the ski trail. It wasn’t a great solution, but it helped a little. Then on Thursday the forest service called to say that this would be burning day. A 2 inch layer of snow, moist air and low winds made conditions relatively safe to set the pile ablaze.
Huge leaping orange flames gave way to a slow, smoldering, smoky burn. Gradually a few holes and gaps have been burned within the mounds of brush, but it is far, far from gone. Plumes of smoke erratically come rolling over the trees towards the East Bearskin Lake bay; the air smells of burning wood. Hopefully Brush Mountain along the Poplar Creek ski trail will at least eventually become only Brush Hill for the winter.