A major windstorm, with straight line winds in excess of 90 mph (145 km/h), swept across northern Minnesota on July 4, 1999, impacting approximately 477,000 acres within the Superior National Forest boundary, including approximately 370,000 acres inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCAW). Since the storm, the Superior National Forest has worked with other members of the Minnesota Incident Command System (MNICS) to address the risk of wildfire in the heavy fuels created by the blowdown through a comprehensive interagency response plan with four areas of focus: fuel reduction, fire prevention, fire suppression preparedness, and emergency response preparedness.
The actual storm itself was an international derecho (a widespread and long-lived, violent convectively induced windstorm that is associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms usually taking the form of a bow echo) that occurred during the afternoon and evening hours of July 4 and the early morning hours of July 5, 1999. It traveled 1300 miles (2100 km) and lasted 22 hours. In Minnesota, one person was killed and 60 were injured as the derecho passed through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Superior National Forest.
As of Fall 2005, fuels have been reduced on nearly 50,000 acres of national forest lands on the Superior National Forest affected by the blowdown, including strategically located treatment units within the BWCAW. A comprehensive information and education plan is in place that targets visitors and landowners with information on how to reduce the risk of wildfire. We have nearly doubled our staff of experienced fire specialists, increased aerial fire suppression capabilities, and increased fire training for all employees. The Forest continues to work with local, state, and regional partners to coordinate resources and define responsibilities in the case of a large wildfire event.
The windstorm that swept parts of the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness has changed that area of the wilderness for years to come, and has created the opportunity for new experiences and new risks for BWCAW visitors.