MNICS is holding its annual meeting this week in Duluth. About 100 interagency representatives are here for Task Force and Board of Director meetings, working team meetings, and presentations. Keynote speakers are Dan Smith, fire director for the National Association of State Foresters, Kari Greer, wildfire photographer and Dr. Harvey Goldstein, critical incident stress management expert. You can read the 2016 annual report here or download it:
The MNICS team took a break to see the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree that stopped in Knoxville, Tennessee on Nov. 23. Harvested from the Payette National Forest, the 80-foot, 16,500-pound, 84-year-old Engelmann Spruce is making its 4,000-mile journey from McCall, Idaho for a lighting ceremony on Dec. 6 in Washington, DC. It will be decorated with more than 6,000 ornaments made by kids in Idaho.
Meanwhile, 70 fires are burning in eastern Tennessee among 164 fires in the southeast, which remains at planning level 5. The region is having abnormally dry to exceptionally high drought conditions. One hundred firefighters were treated to a Thanksgiving Day meal yesterday as crews continue to arrive at the Knoxville Mobilization Center being coordinated by Brian Pisarek and the MNICS team.
Inside the Knoxville MOB center
As heavy fire behavior continues, Wildfire Today reports the Southern Area Coordination Center (SACC) is at planning level 5 with 73 active fires, more than 109,500 acres burned and 3,492 personnel. A total of 242 engines, 19 helicopters and 103 hand crews are also assigned. Earlier this month Kentucky was under a state of emergency with 38 active fires. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency today with 19 fires and 40,000 acres burned since Oct. 23.
Nearly 80 MNICS personnel are now in eight states: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Resources may also soon be needed in Tennessee. Among those, MIFC fire behavior analyst B.J. Glesener is at SACC headquarters in Atlanta producing the daily Southern Fire Environment Outlook showing high fire potential in Georgia, Tennessee and southeastern Kentucky. The region is still in need of dispatchers and crew replacements, so please make your availability known to your duty officers.
The University of Minnesota Sustainable Forests Education Cooperative is offering a day-long symposium discussing fire-dependent forest systems on Dec. 1, Timberlake Lodge, Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Many of Minnesota’s most productive forest systems are fire-dependent including jack pine, red pine, and oak-dominated systems. Panel presentations from regional researchers, forest and fire managers will focus on the role of fire including the potential for increased use of prescribed burning. See the agenda and register now.
Also, on Dec. 13 from noon to 1 p.m. you can learn about Minnesota forest history and how changing forest conditions are impacting the timber supply, wildlife habitat and human use. Cost is $20 and you can register here.
Darren Neuman is the new Minnesota DNR wildfire aviation supervisor. He replaces Bill Schuster and comes to the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center (MIFC) with 15 years of forestry, fire and helicopter operations experience.
“I’m excited to work with a top-notch team and to lead a program with proven success,” said Neuman, a University of Minnesota forest resources management graduate. “We will make some exciting changes and continue our valued MNICS and GLFFC partnerships along with aviation programs across the U.S. and Canada.”
Neuman’s forestry career progression began in 2001 at the DNR Grygla office. He moved to Hill City in 2006, then to Grand Rapids in 2007 for work in the Deer River forestry area. He became the Deer River assistant area forester in 2015. Darren and wife, Tiffany, live and work in Grand Rapids. They have a pair of five-year-olds, Adele and Finn.
The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reduced the national preparedness level to one on Sept. 30 and Minnesota is at planning level two. Heavy precipitation over the summer has reduced the threat of wildfire throughout most the state. So far this year, Minnesota Incident Command System (MNICS) agencies report a total of 1,330 fires for 11,825 acres burned.
As of Oct. 11, MNICS agencies conducted 488 prescribed burns (Rx) throughout the state for 103,121 acres burned. Prescribed fire in a controlled setting reduces fuel so a wildfire has less chance of occurring. It can improve wildlife habitat and enhance native plant growth.
Birds, waterfowl, prairie chickens, moose, grouse and cranes benefit from new vegetation growth. To a large extent, prescribed burning helps natural generation of tree stands. Jack Pine, and a few other Minnesota tree species, depend on fire to regenerate.
When it’s not peak fire season, wildland and forest firefighters improve timber stands by pruning White Pine trees or bud-capping them. They also maintain forest roads, muck culverts, remove brush and deadfall. When not fighting wildfires, they also repair or replace signage, maintain buildings and grounds, fix equipment at field stations, inventory timber stands and help with other field chores.
Last month, Great Lakes Forest Fire Compact (GLFFC) members had their annual meeting in Brainerd. Wildfire aviators and fire specialists from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario and Manitoba meet each year to share operational resources that leverage costs. Members exchanged ideas within their committees: operations, prevention, training, air operations, law enforcement and financial management.
To build cohesion, states and provinces compete in the GLFFC Cup Competition, a series of games and challenges including a scavenger hunt and team exercise of building an egg drop contraption. This year Ontario took the competition from Michigan members who won it last year.
During non-peak fire season, wildland firefighters train extensively to keep up their skills and red card qualifications as required by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) and Federal Emergency Management (FEMA).
Earlier this month, multi-state participants attended a “From Followership to Leadership” (L-280) course at Itasca Community College. Lead cadre instructors Pete Leschak and Dan Carroll facilitated the classroom discussion focusing on central leadership ideas to build a common purpose, team success and how to develop a professional sense of community.
An interagency team consisting of Angela Bealka, Jacob Beauregard, Cory Berg, Kirk Johnson, Chris Kramer, Tom Lynch, Pat Mulligan, Dustin Nelson, Dan Oberg and Harlow Thompson coordinated the field leadership assessment course (FLAC). Among other scenarios, crews dealt with simulations involving an injured and impaired driver, search and rescue operation, mutiny among crew members and how to safely remove hidden weapons from a vehicle.
“You have to ask yourself why would anyone want to follow me?” Leschak said. In terms of leadership qualities “you must want to do it and be able to lead by example.”
Learn more about upcoming wildfire training. It’s a good idea to check your qualifications after each fire season. If you were assigned to Minnesota DNR fires, you can email your fire experience to firstname.lastname@example.org so the information is updated on your record.
Apply by Dec. 31, 2016 if you want a spot on one of three Minnesota Incident Command System (MNICS) teams. This includes casuals, trainees, alternates and Command/General staff. You must apply regardless of your current status to be considered for 2017 team selection. Questions? Contact Tasha Woodwick, 218/322-2743.
The Minnesota Interagency Fire Center (MIFC), 402 SE 11th Street, Grand Rapids, Minnesota will begin heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) replacement on Oct. 19, 2016. The three-phase project will start with second floor construction. The Cache remains open for business. Some staff members will relocate to the MIFC training room and others will temporarily be off site at other locations:
- U.S. Forest Service staff, including the initial attack dispatch office, will move to the USDA Northern Research Station at Itasca Community College
- MIFC aviation desk staffers will split their time between the Hibbing Tanker Base and MIFC
First floor construction is expected to start by late December. MIFC office hours (8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) and designated phone numbers remain the same, along with 24/7 duty officer coverage. Call before you visit and take caution in the MIFC parking lot while construction is underway. Contact Blake Freking or Bekah Luedtke if you have questions.
The University of Minnesota Sustainable Forests Education Cooperative will host a “Fire in Minnesota Forests” symposium on Thursday, Dec. 1 at the Timberlake Lodge in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Registration is $75 for members and $140 for non-members. Questions? Contact 218/726-6403.
Description: Many of Minnesota’s most productive forest systems are fire-dependent. With a focus on fire, this day-long symposium will go over the ecology, management and the potential for increased use of prescribed burning. Speakers include regional researchers, forest and fire managers. There will be a panel discussion about the role of fire in managing jack pine, red pine, and oak-dominated systems.
Chase Marshall is the new fire management officer (FMO) for the Superior National Forest. Prior to arriving in Minnesota, he was FMO for six years at the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, Maine.
Welcome to Paul Lundgren, the new Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) state fire section manager.
Working progressively into DNR leadership positions, Paul brings 21 years of forestry and fire experience. Beginning as a smoke-chaser for three seasons out of the DNR Zimmerman Forestry Station, Paul was hired permanently in 1996 as a field forester in Wannaska. Other Division of Forestry (DoF) areas he worked at include Warroad, Pequot Lakes, Backus, Brainerd and Grand Rapids offices. More recently, Paul served as assistant forestry manager in the northeast region. He supervised, implemented and integrated DoF programs, activities, policies and budgets.
Paul has proven forestry and fire management experience and looks forward to working with fire section staff and Minnesota Incident Command System (MNICS) partners. He is now located at the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center (MIFC) in Grand Rapids.
His first day as fire section manager was Aug. 31 at the Minnesota State Fair working at the fire tower. Paul and wife, Lynn, have three children: Olivia (16 years), Madelynn (14 years) and Mason (9 years).
Keep ’em coming!
MNICS members and friends, thanks for your “What I Did on My Summer Fire Assignment” submissions. We will post as many as we get. You can send them to email@example.com
Doreen Deutsch, from the U.S. Forest Service Northeastern Area, State & Private Forestry Office in St. Paul, Minnesota wrote to us about her first western fire assignment at the Lava Fire, Shoshone National Forest in Dubois, Wyoming. She worked as a Personnel Time Recorder for the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team which eventually transferred command to a Type 1 team. Doreen said it was great to have other Minnesotans as finance team members but also meeting folks from other states. She looks forward to working at another fire out west next summer.
In July, Minnesota DNR’s Mike Bates joined seven Division of Forestry staff to form a module that accompanied helicopter 19BH, which was stationed in Douglas, Wyoming for part of the summer.
Bates said the crew did bucket work, reconnaissance, crew and cargo shuttles on a number of fires including Baldy Peak, Middle Ridge, Rock Pile and Harmon Heights. “We staffed helicopter 19BH, which is on contract with the state of Minnesota, but is offered up to help out other states during summer months,” Bates said.
Fifteen years ago, the DNR set up a Map Mobile unit that would bring mobile mapping technology to the scene of remote wildfires. The unit’s first call: New York City and the deadly scene of what is now known simply as 9/11.
Within days of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center that killed thousands, seven DNR forestry employees were called on to help search and recovery crews, with five of these called to assist with mapping the attack’s aftermath in a 16-acre area of lower Manhattan.
Though it sounds complex, more difficult for Paul Olson, a GIS analyst in Grand Rapids, was working amid “all of the tragedy. So many people lost their lives. Technically it wasn’t a challenge. It was the emotional toll.”
At Ground Zero, he stood in awe of the devastation while taking photos to include in an overview map.
“You felt like you were watching history,” he said of the two-week assignment in mid-September 2001.
They mapped and recorded locations of “significant findings,” such as plane parts, casualties and personal items like jewelry, purses and wallets. Some maps pinpointed potential safety hazards where heavy equipment such as cranes were located or hot spots where below ground fires were still burning. Maps were constantly updated as the search continued.
Tim Aunan, who left the DNR in 2013, recalled the many fires burning all around the rubble of what they called “the pile” and the strong smell of jet fuel. “You could also smell death,” said Aunan, now a natural resources instructor at Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids. His memories of the tragedy often come to him when he teaches a dendrology class and how to identify the downy arrowwood plant with its smell of rotting flesh. “It sort of reminds me of that smell of 9/11,” he said. “Every time I teach it I can smell it.”
Olson said the DNR team got the call to help because they are part of the National Incident Management System. “We were credentialed and experienced. We had the mobile equipment and we were ready.”
Of the seven DNR employees who were on the scene in New York, Olson and Cindy Tisdell are still with the agency. Tisdell, office manager in the Bemidji area office, was an ordering manager for recovery equipment and supplies.
Watch a video created by the communications team in October 2001.
Wanted: Details about your summer fire assignment
We asked Minnesota Incident Command System (MNICS) members and friends to submit “What I Did on My Summer Fire Assignment” photos and recollections. Thanks for emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here is our first installment.
Minnesota Interagency Fire Center’s Ginger Humphrey recently worked at the Berry Fire dispatch center in Moose, Wyoming. She stayed in Jackson Hole and quickly made friends with fellow dispatchers from Alaska, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The dispatch office window overlooked the Snake River where wildlife was abundant and in plain view at Yellowstone National Park.
Last month MIFC crew #3, led by Adam Cook (USFS), was assigned to the 41,700-acre Rail Fire near Unity, Oregon. Hard work, positive attitudes, safety and ingenuity prevailed. The crew spent their days “holding the fire line and watching the green for smoke.” Before demobilizing, Meghan Ring (DNR) took a crew shot using a newly constructed ‘firefighter selfie stick’ made of duct tape, a combi tool and a smart phone.
As of today, the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center had 142 personnel on assignment in 11 states. Mobilized resources include 7 aircraft, 1 crew and 30 trucks or engines. Minnesota Incident Command System members have traveled to California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Update from the Bureau of Indian Affairs
Eighth crew of the season is mobilized
Minnesota Incident Command System (MNICS) crew #3, under crew bosses Adam Cook and Jeremy Pace, U.S. Forest Service, left the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center (MIFC) this evening to pre-position at the Huron-Manistee National Forest in Cadillac, Michigan.
Aug. 5, 1949: Lessons from the Mann Gulch Fire
Sixty seven years ago on a sweltering summer day lightning sparked a wildfire that spread into a funnel-shaped canyon in Montana’s Helena National Forest. Sixteen smokejumpers left Missoula to fight the Mann Gulch Fire, where the Missouri River meets the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. Between two distinctly different geographical regions, the canyon had dense pine growth on one side and a thick carpet of mixed timber and prairie grass on the other.
Minnesota Interagency Fire Center (MIFC) crew #2, led by DNR’s Mike Lichter, left Grand Rapids this evening for a pre-position order to the Northern Rockies Coordinating Center (NRCC), Missoula, Montana. As fires begin to pick up in the west, crews are rostered quickly and spend fewer days on national availability lists.
“We are refining the system to contact available crew members, line up equipment and resources, and get them on the road quickly but safely,” said MIFC coordinator Rebekah Luedtke.
This is the seventh crew mobilized since mid-June. Meanwhile, MNICS crew #2 returned from Nevada on Saturday, July 30 and MNICS crew #3 is expected to arrive from Colorado tomorrow, Aug. 2. MNICS crew #1 will demobilize later this week from its two-week assignment at the Cliff Creek Fire in Wyoming.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Division of Forestry has recognized Minnesota Interagency Fire Center (MIFC) staff Terry Flatley and Diane Nygaard with the Team Award of Excellence for outstanding service. Co-nominated by MIFC coordinators B.J. Glesener, Rebekah Luedtke and Todd Manley, the pair works closely to process Incident Qualification System (IQS) items for task books and red cards issued to nearly 3,000 statewide recipients. Together, Terry and Diane have a combined 42 years of state experience. They received their awards at a DNR ceremony last week at Gunn Park near Grand Rapids, Minnesota.