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UPDATED: Arson suspected in Cass Lake area wildfire

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fire bombers stationed in Bemidji were called in to combat the 65-acre wildfire southwest of Cass Lake on Wednesday afternoon. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 3
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources firefighters guard a fire line to make sure the blaze would not cross state Highway 371 south of Cass Lake on Wednesday afternoon. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 3
The helicopters with dump buckets fill water from a stock pond along Cass County Road 146 south of Cass Lake to help fight a forest fire on Wednesday afternoon. The helicopters were quick to hit hot spots and were key in helping contain the fire from expanding. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 3

CASS LAKE -- Arson is suspected to be the cause of the Cass County fire on Wednesday afternoon that consumed more than 75 acres and prompted the evacuation of 10 residences in Cass County.

The Cass County Sheriff’s Office reported Thursday morning that a juvenile male was found near the fire scene and was taken into custody. 

Arson is suspected to be the cause of the fire, but the investigation is continuing with the cooperation of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fire investigation teams, a Cass County release reported. 

The fire was reported about 1:30 p.m. in Pike Bay Township, a mile southwest of Cass Lake. Responding workers found a large fast-moving wildfire in a pine forest where was a “significant” amount of blowdown material, the release stated.

“There’s an awful lot of mixed pine and blowdown from the July 5 storm two years ago,” said Greg Nelson, DNR Regional Director. “It will eventually break down but could take up to 10 years.”

The fire consumed about 76 acres and some abandoned buildings. Ten residences along Nary Road were evacuated but were unharmed.

"I was right across the train tracks in Cass Lake when it happened," said Michael Northbird of Cass Lake. "Cops flipped their lights on around 1:40 p.m." Northbird said he saw a huge black plume at about 2 p.m. "It took the sunlight out, it was so thick," Northbird said.

The fire was contained at about 5:30 p.m. with a bulldozer line. Aerial support included two water-scooping aircraft and two helicopters with water buckets, as well as several dozers and other tracked vehicles.

Numerous agencies responded to assist with the wildfire, including DNR Forestry, U.S. Forest Service, Leech Lake Department of Resources Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Conservation Corps of Minnesota.

In addition, eight fire departments provided structure protection, including Cass Lake, Bemidji, Lakeport, Hackensack, Walker, Backus, Blackduck and Solway. The Cass County Sheriff’s Office was assisted by the Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office, Leech Lake Tribal Police Department, Pike Bay Police Dept, and the Minnesota State Patrol.

The Salvation Army and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe assisted with food and refreshments at the Pike Bay Town Hall.