Third worst western wildfire season in a decade

Exceeds 10-year average of 5.4 million acres burned 

The 2017 western wildfire season has been unprecedented in terms of large, long-duration fires. As of Sept. 15, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reports a total of nearly 49,500 wildfires this summer with almost 8.4 million acres burned. Currently 66 large wildfires are burning across 11 states (CA, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, SD, TX, UT, WA, WY) with 10 new fire starts since yesterday.

Tank Hollow Fire (Alex Galt FWS photo)
Tank Hollow Fire (Alex Galt FWS photo)

Of those, 22 wildfires are in Montana, which has been hit hard this summer because of ‘exceptional’ drought. Minnesota firefighters at the Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake report today that crews and engines are demobilizing. The 156,000-acre wildfire in the Lolo National Forest began July 24th and is representative of extreme western wildfires requiring hundreds of personnel for many weeks during the summer season.

National Weather Service map, Sept. 15

U.S. Fish & Wildfire Service’s Russ Langford, deputy fire manager for the Midwest region, spent 21 days as deputy incident commander at the Rice Ridge Fire. He is among 1,600 individual MNICS mobilizations to western wildfires from June through August.

“It’s a record-breaking season and firefighters at all levels of leadership have been stretched but our resilience and commitment to serving the public has really shone through,” said Langford, who is also on the MNICS board of directors.

Russ Langford (FWS)
Russ Langford (FWS)

Langford and other MNICS members have served in a variety of priority decision making capacities. He as deputy incident commander; Ron Stoffel (DNR) will head to Boise to serve as a National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group (NMAC) representative. Tom Remus (BIA) recently returned from the Northern Rockies Coordinating Center (NRCC) where he was MAC coordinator. These assignments require years of wildland fire experience, so Minnesota is well represented both on the fire line and behind the scenes.

A stormy Rice Ridge ICP today (Scott Belknap photo)
A stormy Rice Ridge ICP today (Scott Belknap photo)

Given the length and scope of this year’s fire season, fire crews and incident management teams are anticipating relief as wet, cold and even snowy conditions are moving into the northwest quarter of the lower 48 states. As of today, more than 180 Minnesotans are fighting western wildfires. Minnesota Interagency Fire Center (MIFC) crew #2, at the Tank Hollow Fire, will leave Utah and return to Grand Rapids on Monday, Sept. 18.

MIFC crew #2 member at Tank Hollow Fire (Alex Galt FWS photo)
MIFC crew #2 member at Tank Hollow Fire (Alex Galt FWS photo)

Meanwhile in Minnesota, with measurable precipitation in the forecast, anticipated fire danger is reduced even in the northwest region. Today state planning levels decreased but since Aug. 10, 2017 the nation remains at five (highest). Watch CBS 3 Duluth tonight at 6 and 10 p.m. to hear MNICS personnel talk about their western fire assignments.