Families search the rubble after the Greenwood fire

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ISABELLA, Minnesota – An overturned wagon and garden stones are roughly the entire Signorelli property that survived when the Greenwood fire tore the McDougal Lakes area on its way to an area of ​​approximately 41 square miles last month.

Family members first saw the ruins of their longtime cabin on Middle McDougal Lake on Wednesday. The merciless fire destroyed their more than 1,000 square meter hut, a forge shed and a forge, a garage in which the prized Rehbein canoes, a sauna and even kayaks rested by the water.

The remains of huge wooden beams where the hut once stood lay crusty and charred. Cast-iron pans and warped cutlery and cutlery lay where the kitchen once stood, and the wrapped mattresses on a bunk bed resembled a sleeping loft.

Sandy Signorelli, 76, and her adult children Mike and Lara Signorelli searched the ash-gray piles of unrecognizable gadgets and molten material to discover a popular cast-iron griddle and stone carving tools, heirlooms from her great-grandfather, an Italian immigrant, who helped build the Enger Tower in Duluth.

“It’s history,” said Lara, 48, about what the hut meant to her family. She will eventually inherit the property, but she’s not sure if it will be the same again after it is rebuilt.

“How many years will it be before it’s fun to be up here?” She asked. “You don’t feel like you are in the forest anymore.”

The fire in Greenwood, north Minnesota, destroyed 14 cottages and homes and nearly 60 outbuildings in its first violent week. Properties on the McDougal Lakes chain, about 10 miles west of Isabella, suffered the greatest damage when the fire spanned thousands of acres on August 23, a fire that such strong firefighters withdrew for their own safety.

The Signorelli cabin on a peaceful island-strewn lake of wild rice grass was enjoyed by Sandy and her husband Mark and their children for 25 summers. Wild blueberries grew along the promenade and a large number of pine and birch trees lined the approximately 2 hectare property. A long deck overlooking the lake was the place for quiet nights lit by lanterns and a hangout for watching sunsets with the neighbors, many of whom have owned their cottages for generations.

The family laughed through tears and remembered their memories as they searched. Mike found the undamaged “toenail glass”, a family joke for nail clippings, where the bathroom once stood. A dog and cat cemetery was largely untouched, and a popular white pine looked like it could survive.

Sandy wished she had taken more with her than she had evacuated the day the fire broke out. She had been optimistic about the distant location of the fire when she saw ominous billows of smoke rising to the south.

“What is surprising is how much damage it did in such a short amount of time,” she said.

Properties on either side of the Signorellis were destroyed, but the fire wasn’t exactly marching. On the Henkel property, three huts below the Signorellis, it scorched surrounding trees and burned a pile of wood, but stopped in front of buildings. A little down the road, a wooden cabin from 1958 was untouched. However, its neighboring property at the end of the peninsula was leveled. About a mile east of the area, the fire burned so hot that it decimated trees and exposed massive boulders, leaving a barren, otherworldly landscape with no bird or other animal noises.

“We feel a bit of remorse from the survivors,” said Sandy Henkels, who has owned a property on the lake with her husband Rick for 30 years. Her large gravel surface and use of a water pump likely helped fend off the fire, she said.

The Signorellis participated in the state’s Firewise program, which helps property owners reduce combustible leaves and trees around buildings.

But their wood-paneled hut was built on concrete posts so a scorching fire could easily break through, they said. Trees outside their property devastated by spruce budworms likely made things worse.

The Signorellis expect rebuilding, likely with a simpler construction and a view of wildfire protection. First, she and others, said Sandy, have to figure out how to dispose of hazardous waste and the debris left behind.

“Homeowners face disposal logistical nightmares,” she said, and many dead and felled trees remain on their properties. With no obvious resources, “How am I supposed to guess where things are going?”

A spokesman for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said: Landfills for natural disasters can be found across the state, including several in the Arrowhead region. A brush disposal facility is located near the McDougal Lake area on Bandana Lake Road, according to the Superior National Forest.

Sorting out the aftermath of a fire is not something to be prepared for, said Sandy, who works as a behavioral nurse in Duluth.

“What can you do?” she said with a shrug. “You just have to deal with it.”

Jana Hollingsworth • 218-508-2450


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