An early beginning
Minnesota 2016 fire season began in early March as warm air surged north and temperatures climbed into the mid-60s. On March 8, the Twin Cities saw a record high of 70 degrees. Minnesota had 267 total fires in March burning 2,158 acres. This compares to 204 fires the year before for 1,781 acres burned. In April, Minnesota had 500 fires for 4,185 acres; and in May there were 493 fires totaling 3,031 acres burned.
The National Weather Service issued a dozen Red Flag Warnings in Minnesota between April 9 and May 22, 2016. As of June 21, Minnesota Incident Command System (MNICS) agencies responded to 1,272 fires for 9,118 acres burned.
Between March 12 and May 23 the Minnesota DNR aviation program received 338 aircraft requests for 129 fires logging 679 hours of flight time. Minnesota DNR regional averages so far this year show the northwest region with 328 fires for 4,057 acres; while the northeast region had 266 fires for 1,162 acres. The DNR central region had 124 fires for 1,312 acres burned. Of these DNR areas, the Bemidji office responded to 92 total fires in the northwest region and Sandstone had 98 fires. The Little Falls area office responded to 114 out of 124 total fires in the DNR central region.
Spring 2016 fires
Three Type 2 MNICS teams were activated to the following incidents:
Lyons State Forest Fire, May 4
- Location: Five miles south of Nimrod, Wadena County
- Acreage: 100 acres of timber, mixed conifers and log piles
- Details: High winds rapidly ignited fire and torched pine trees; structures threatened but not damaged
- IC: Mike Aultman, Minnesota DNR, MNICS Team A
- Cooperators: Sebeka, Verndale, Staples, Menagha and Wadena Fire Departments; Staples Ambulance and Wadena County Sheriff
- Media: Lakeland Public TV, Bemidji Pioneer, Wadena Pioneer Journal, Brainerd Dispatch
Lake Hattie Fire, May 5
- Location: Four miles northwest of Lake George, Hubbard County
- Acreage: 356 acres of grass, timber and slash piles
- Details: Lake homes and commercial timber lots were within two miles of the fire perimeter. Low relative humidity and high winds increased fire intensity.
- IC: Mike Aultman, Minnesota DNR, MNICS Team A
- Cooperators: Minnesota DNR Forestry, Lake George Fire Department, U.S. Forest Service, Conservation Corps of Minnesota, Hubbard County Sheriff Media: May 5 Bemidji Pioneer, May 6 Bemidji Pioneer, WCCO TV, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, KARE-11 TV, Lakeland Public TV
Skibo Fire, May 6
- Location: Two miles east of Hoyt Lakes, St. Louis County.
- Acreage: 973 acres of balsam fir, timber and grass
- Details: The fire was 21 miles in perimeter. An assisted living home in Aurora was evacuated on May 6 and several Hoyt Lakes residents were evacuated for about a week. Approximately 142 personnel from 12 different states worked on this fire
- IC: Greg Peterson, BIA, MNICS Team B.
- Cooperators: City of Hoyt Lakes, Hoyt Lakes, Palo and Aurora Fire Departments, U.S. Forest Service, Hoyt Lakes Ambulance Service, St. Louis County Sheriff, St. Louis County Rescue Squad, Conservation Corps of Minnesota, East Range Police Department, Minnesota State Fire Marshal’s Office
- Media: WDIO TV, Duluth News Tribune, KQDS TV, KBJR TV, KDAL Radio, WCCO TV, Minnesota Public Radio, Hometown News, Radio USA-Hibbing, Go Media
A day later two more fires erupted along the Iron Range. The Hut 2 Fire1 burned 257 acres north of Finland and the Taylor Road Fire2 consumed 250 acres near Embarrass, Minnesota. During that week wildfire suppression resources were stretched to capacity. Extra aircraft were brought in and Iron Range photographer Matt Herberg snapped some iconic wildfire aviation photos (pictured) near his mother’s home in Embarrass. (1 – IC: Tom Lynch, Minnesota DNR; 2 – IC: George Esbensen, Eden Prairie Fire Department, All Hazard Incident Team).
Foss Lake Fire, May 19
- Location: 10 miles southwest of Ely, St. Louis County
- Acreage: 936 into Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
- Details: Result of an escaped prescribed burn. More than 250 personnel worked on this fire including nine interagency hotshot crews from out-of-state
- IC: Incident Commander: Brian Pisarek, MN-DNR, MNICS Team C
- Cooperators: U.S. Forest Service, City of Ely, Conservation Corps of Minnesota, Burntside Lake
- Media: Duluth News Tribune, WDIO TV, Minnesota Public Radio, Timberjay, Lakeland Public TV, Wildfire Today, Ely Echo, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, WDAZ TV, WCCO TV
Outreach and events
After years of research and restoration, the Minnesota DNR acquired a 1928 Model AA Ford stake truck replicating vehicles used by the Minnesota Division of Forestry during that era. Meticulously restored by a father and son team out of Story City, Iowa, the truck arrived at General Andrews on April 15, 2016 and will be used at the Minnesota State Fair and other events.
Minnesota observes Wildfire Prevention Week during the third week in April each year. The Minnesota Interagency Fire Center (MIFC) hosted a series of radio interviews, newspaper and TV coverage and a promotional event at Brewed Awakenings, a Grand Rapids coffee house. The DNR Firewise Prevention team provided coffee sleeves to independent coffee shops in northeastern Minnesota from April 17-23, 2016.
On May 7, the DNR Brainerd Tankerbase was dedicated in a memorial ceremony to Darwin Anderson and his family (pictured). He was a pivotal leader in state wildfire aviation and “changed the way we fought fire in this state.” More than 100 people attended the outdoor event, which also turned out to be a Red Flag Warning day that kept Minnesota fire crews busy (Brainerd Dispatch article).
On May 23, two Kompas TV journalists from Jakarta, Indonesia visited northeastern Minnesota to tour the DNR and Minnesota Interagency Fire Center (MIFC). Reporter Veny Sinuraya and camera man Subandi Siswanto came to Grand Rapids via a U.S. State Department three-week tour to study peatland fire science. A highlight for them was to tour the Northeast Interagency Fire Cache.