Spring wildfire season, not so much

Prevention also reduces wildfires

“Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.” When comparing Minnesota’s spring wildfire season this year to last, Mark Twain may have had it right.

It’s not over yet but depending how you look at it, cool, wet and snowy weather definitely tamped down wildfire activity in most of the state through early May despite a historic 20-month state warming trend.  While the 2016 spring wildfire season may have been snappy, this year could be characterized as sluggish.

As of May 4, Minnesota Incident Command System (MNICS) agencies responded to 614 fires for 1,778 acres burned. This is a 72 percent decrease in wildfire acres compared to the same period in 2016, when MNICS agencies responded to 771 wildfires for 6,369 acres burned. Prevention, outreach and burning restrictions can also stem wildfire activity. Check the May 1, 2017 National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) outlook for a summer fire forecast.

U.S. fires (1994-2013) of <300 acres or more
FireBoss (Matt Herberg photo)

Fewer aircraft dispatched
During the first week alone in May 2016, there were 91 aircraft dispatch requests to 32 separate fires. In fact, between March 12 and May 23 last year the MIFC air desk received 338 aircraft requests for 129 fires logging 679 hours of flight time. As of May 1, 2017 the MIFC air desk logged a total of 76 aircraft requests dispatched to 39 fires. Even if May warms up and dries out quickly, there is a short window for spring wildfire activity, especially with several inches of snow in late April and early May in some parts of the state. Between April 9 and May 22 last year there were a dozen Red Flag Warning days issued by the National Weather Service (NWS). This occurs when warm temperatures and high winds decrease relative humidity creating prime wildfire conditions. As of May 1, 2017 the NWS issued just one Red Flag Warning on April 16 for the northwest portion of the state.

Oak-blueberry Rx burn 2016 (Tim Engrav photo)

Opportunity for prescribed fire
As of May 4, MNICS agencies have conducted 277 prescribed fires for 52,867 acres burned. Prescribed fire reduces hazardous fuels and wildfire risk, benefits natural resources and improves habitat for threatened and endangered species. Learn more from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service about resource management through prescribed fire.

March 2017 Rx burn, Fond du Lac Reservation (Matt Goseyun photo)