Officials report 12 structures destroyed, 3 damaged in Greenwood Fire

The largest fire burning in Minnesota — the Greenwood Fire — has destroyed a dozen structures, fire crews discovered Wednesday.

Lake County Emergency Manager Matt Pollmann told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the number of reported structures damaged was three, so far. A team went into the McDougal Lake area to assess the aftermath of the fire after it doubled in size Monday.

Pollmann couldn’t confirm where the damaged and destroyed buildings are at this time. Officials with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office were notifying affected homeowners this afternoon.

The Greenwood Fire is estimated at 21,720 acres in size, or 34 square miles.

Clark McCreedy, a public information officer with the East Area Incident Management Team, said Wednesday’s weather helped crews battle the blaze. Winds from the northwest allowed firefighters to strengthen containment lines on the north and west sides of the fire. By using controlled burns, McCreedy said they hoped to reduce the fuels burning and put "block lines" into place so that the fire is less likely to spread.

"If we get that done today, folks will feel much better," he said in a phone interview. "That gives us a big head start as we move into [the weekend], where we have moderate weather and good chances for rain."

In addition to ground crews and hotshots from around the country fighting the fire on the ground, the Minnesota National Guard has brought in Blackhawk helicopters to drop water on the fire from above.

Video taken by Staff Sgt. Hugo Wong-Cardona on one of those missions Wednesday shows smoke billowing from the fire perimeter and trees going up in flames.

Jordan Meskill is a second lieutenant who flies the helicopters. He was in the cockpit Monday when the fire doubled in size.

"That day, it really looked like a volcano," Meskill said in an interview with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. "We were watching trees literally explode in front of us."

He said this mission is personal to him. His grandmother lives 15 miles north of the fire, in Ely. She has been watching the smoke plume and the aircraft flying into the area.

Another crew member, Meskill said, has a cabin in the evacuation zone.

"His wife and kids were there and they evacuated because the flames were coming," he said. "It’s affecting all of us on a personal level."

The large orange bucket that hangs below the helicopter can hold 530 gallons of water. Meskill said they try to find large, deep lakes near the fire. He lowers the aircraft down and hovers over the water’s surface until the bucket is submerged.

"Then when we’re over the fire, the crew chief will say, ‘I’m dumping, dumping, dumping,’ and then that way we know water is being dispersed," Meskill said, showing the remote control’s trigger.

It’s work that requires precision, but that pays off. Meskill said one crew earlier in the week managed to drop 73 buckets in one day.

"We live here," he said. "This is our neighbors who are hurting so we wanted to help them in any way possible," he said.