Prescribed Burns near the BWCA

Forest Fires and prescribed burns, what’s the difference? A prescribed burn is a fire set intentionally to burn fuel to prevent other larger fires from starting.  Sometimes these prescribed burns can turn into a forest fire as proven during the Pagami Fire a few years ago.  But the risk is worth it if it can protect an area like it did during the Ham Lake Fire.  Certain areas around Seagull Lake were spared because there were prescribed fires done prior to it.  In any case, the USFS is using prescribed fires this year to help protect property near the BWCA. Let’s hope they keep them under control and they do what they are supposed to do in the event of a large forest fire.

Forest Service using intentional fires to create breaks, protect homes near BWCAW

By John Myers at 6:48 p.m.

Fires burning west of Burntside Lake near Ely on Tuesday were started on purpose, by the Smokey Bear folks, in hopes of robbing future wildfires of their fuel.

Superior National Forest officials gave the go-ahead for crews to burn about 120 acres Monday near Coo Lake. That went so well that crews started fires to burn another 750 acres Tuesday in the North School Section area. Another 60 acres near Tamarack Creek could go up Wednesday if it doesn’t rain.

All of the forest being burned is between developed homes, cabins and camps in the Burntside Lake area and parts of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness that are ripe for wildfire.

“It’s part of a larger effort to create breaks to protect that developed space from fires that might start in the really high-density-fuel areas in the wilderness to the west,” said Kris Reichenbach, spokeswoman for the Superior National Forest.

It’s the latest in a series of intentional fires, with more to come, in a season that’s become nearly perfect for such “prescribed burns.” Most of the forest is green and moist, but the dead wood targeted to burn is dry enough to light. Moreover, rain comes nearly weekly at this time of year and would help douse any intentional fire that got too hot.

“It’s just about perfect conditions,” Reichenbach said, noting wildfire crews are available to stand guard because there is such a low danger of actual wildfires.

Becca Manlove, spokeswoman for the Kawishiwi Ranger District in Ely, said crews in the field reported perfect burning conditions and successful reduction of fuels on Tuesday. Some of the fires were lit by hand and others by aircraft.

Fire crews in May lit fires along North Arm Road near Burntside Lake and south of Blueberry Road north of Birch Lake.

The Forest Service hopes to follow up this summer’s fires and burn another 2,400 acres inside the BWCAW, near Crab Lake, if conditions allow this fall. The current fires will have created a fire break between Crab Lake and developed property.

The Forest Service in recent years has burned thousands of acres in and near the BWCAW, especially in areas hard-hit by the July 4, 1999 “blowdown” wind storm that downed millions of trees. The blowdown left lots of dead and dying trees which helped fuel some of the state’s largest wildfires in the past 75 years.

Other factors, such as spruce budworm and an aging forest, as well as an increase in fire-prone balsam trees, also have led to a buildup of fuels within parts of the BWCAW that haven’t seen a fire in recent years.

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