Steven Posniak- Man Convicted of Starting Ham Lake Fire

     With all of the news this past year regarding the Pagami Creek Fire it seems strange to be talking about the Ham Lake Fire.  An article published online on October 28th, 2011 was printed in the Dartmouth November/DecemberAlumni magazine and that has drawn attention once again to the man convicted of starting the Ham Lake Fire.

     Anyone who followed the blog during the 2007 Ham Lake Fire knows how traumatizing the event was.  People lost homes, cabins, boats and canoes.  Businesses and residents were evacuated for weeks and we went without telephone for 2 months.  The stress of the fire and not knowing if our lodge and business would burn to the ground was overwhelming. Acting as a member of the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department the shock of turning a corner and not seeing a house that had been there previously was awful.  The scorched trees and forever changed landscape was impossible to ignore.  

     After the smoke had cleared in spite of the vast loss and suffering we were all thankful for one thing, no human lives were lost. 

     That changed on December 16, 2008 when Steven Posniak took his own life.  Unlike a fairy tale the Ham Lake Fire didn’t have a happy ending for anyone involved.  Why did Steven Posniak go into his backyard with a shotgun on that fateful day? Was it to take financial care of his wife and daughter?  I’m not sure we’ll ever know for sure but the fact remains he did.

     According to the article the day before Steven Posniak took his own life he had received bad news from the courts as well as a tax lien against a property.  He was to appear in court in January to defend himself against charges that could have put him in prison for up to 6 years and cost him a $250,000 fine.  He could also have been made to pay restitution for the costs of fighting the Ham Lake Fire which were around 11 million dollars.

     He was indicted in October of 2008 by a federal grand jury for the fire he started on May 5, 2007.  Steven Posniak was camping on Ham Lake near the end of the Gunflint Trail during a very dry spring.  He started a campfire, burned some paper and a spark ignited the parched forest around him.  He attempted to put the fire out but gave up and paddled back to Tuscarora to his vehicle. 

     I saw Steven that day and his face looked like the face of a man responsible for starting a wildfire.  He avoided eye contact while loading his vehicle and didn’t approach anyone to debrief about his escape from the fire.  He did not act like an innocent victim and he lied to the USFS about where he had been camping.  He knew he was responsible then just as he knew he was responsible on the day he took his life. 

     It could have happened to anyone but it happened to Steven Posniak.  He started a wildfire that would burn 57 square miles in Minnesota and 61 square miles in Ontario.  The Ham Lake Fire damaged 140 structures and affected the lives of hundreds of people for months on end. 

     It didn’t seem possible that anything could make the Ham Lake Fire worse but somehow Steven Posniak did just that when he took his life making the Ham Lake Fire the worst fire ever. 

My blog after the indictment.  Myblog after his suicide.