Minnesota: Prescribed fire escapes west of Ely

(UPDATED at 7:35 p.m. CDT May 22, 2016)

Foss Lake Fire mapOn Saturday the U.S. Forest Service reported that better mapping showed that the Foss Lake Fire, that escaped from a prescribed fire in northeast Minnesota, had not burned 1,000 acres as previously reported, but only 440 acres. On Sunday morning their update said it was 1,008 acres, and included this information:

There was little growth on the fire yesterday. Accurate mapping data from handheld and aircraft GPS units resulted in the large increase in acreage.


(UPDATED at 10:08 CDT May 21, 2016)

Foss Lake Fire map
The Foss Lake Fire ran for two miles with a wind out of the south until it hit Crab Lake.


(UPDATED at 11 p.m. CDT May 20, 2016)

The U.S. Forest Service has provided more details about the escaped prescribed fire 15 miles west of Ely, Minnesota. Better mapping shows that it has burned approximately 440 acres rather than 1,000 from the earlier estimate.

From the Superior National Forest at about 10 p.m. CDT on Friday:

The fire is burning north within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).

Crews made good progress today, directly attacking the fire on its north, east, and west sides. Aircraft dropped fire retardant along the east side of the fire and water on the west side.

Background: The Foss Lake Fire began on May 19 as a prescribed fire to reduce surface and ladder fuels, to enhance wildlife habitat, and to encourage jack pine regeneration. Shortly after ignition, an unpredicted change in weather conditions brought higher winds, warmer temperatures, and lower relative humidity. A spot fire north of the control line escaped containment and the wind-driven fire spread to the north. Aircraft that were on standby responded quickly and, with the work of ground crews, were able to slow the fire’s eastward spread with water and retardant drops, protecting the west and north sides of Burntside Lake. The fire spread north to Crab Lake in the BWCAW. There was no fire growth to the south.

Message: There is no threat to the towns of Ely, Winton, Tower, or Soudan. No structures are threatened. Good fuel-reduction work completed over the last two years on Burntside Lake increases firefighters’ ability to manage the eastern edge.

Resources: 80 personnel and 8 aircraft. MNICS Type II Team under Incident Commander Brian Pisarek arrived today and will take command of the fire Saturday morning. The Lake Vermilion Fire Brigade and the Morse/Fall Lake Fire Department both have fire boats on Burntside Lake are conducting structure-protection assessments.


(UPDATED at 1 p.m. CDT May 20, 2016)

The U.S. Forest Service estimates the Foss Lake Fire 15 miles west of Ely, Minnesota has burned approximately 1,000 acres. Until the Type 2 incident management team that has been ordered arrives, the Type 3 Incident Commander is Timo Rova.


(Originally published at 9:56 a.m. CDT May 20, 2016.)

Map Foss Lake Fire
Map showing heat (the brown dots) detected by a satellite on the Foss Lake Fire at 2:43 p.m. CDT May 19, 2016.

A prescribed fire on the Superior National Forest escaped control Thursday 15 miles west of Ely, Minnesota. The intent was to burn 78 acres north of Tamarack and Foss Lakes north of the 404 Road. By late afternoon the fire had been assigned a name, Foss Lake, and was creating a large convection column of smoke topped by a pyrocumulus cloud, an indication of fire intensity.

Thursday night the Forest Service was not able to provide a size estimate due to the smoke restricting visibility.

The fire was fought yesterday by firefighters on the ground assisted by eight aircraft.

Thursday before it escaped there were 10 hand crews prepositioned in Minnesota that were not assigned to fires. Presumably many of those are now working on the Foss Lake Fire.

Yesterday’s afternoon weather conditions near the fire were 74 degrees, 6 mph wind gusting to 19 mph, and 16 percent relative humidity. The forecast for Friday: 74 degrees, south wind at 6 mph, 51 percent cloud cover, and 22 percent relative humidity. There is no rain expected until Monday.

We will update this article as the situation develops.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

4 thoughts on “Minnesota: Prescribed fire escapes west of Ely”

  1. Let’s hope this one doesn’t grow to the size of the Pagami Fire back in 2011. My pilot was given the task of using the torch on a prescribed fire in order to burn out the fuels ahead of the Lightening strike fire on the north end of the now Pagami Burn. The wind switched and blew up and it got and ran for a total of over 100,000 acres.

  2. The most difficult task a fire manger has to accomplish is organizing a prescribed burn. Your plan has to work from the outside inward to the point of ignition. The smaller the treated area the more likely the chance of escape. Example, when a wildfire is reported the action and resources are put into motion from the point of ignition outward, expanding. Prescribed fire resources are order, logistics, operations, and finance are assembled in anticipation of a “good prescription” to put fire on the ground, working inward. What happens if you have an inaccurate or outside prescription fire weather window? Resources are assembled, usually from numerous agencies (some on O.T.) to assist. The pressure is real. People are getting anxious. What do you do with 200 lunches that where suppose to be here at 0900 hours and now the vendor tells you about noon? My company does prescribe burning. First on my cell phone speed dial is my insurance broker (liability of burn) second 9-1-1. Maybe “expanding”, outside the plan, prescribe fire should be looked at as bonus acres or a larger area of benefit to forest health? “Those who have and those who will”.

  3. One fact-of-fire life; at the start of a prescribed burn regardless of acres to be treated, don’t count on the wind to stay consistent. More likely it (wind) will increase and start changing directions. Unless the F.S. in Ely had lakes or deserts surrounding the area to be burned, gust to 19 m.p.h. should have been a clue. Reminds me of a National Park operation. On a lighter note, the helicopter in the Ely Echo appears to be an internal tanked Columbia Chinook. This could be the first time that a photo has been taken of this new fire aviation asset on a working fire?


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