Two wildland firefighters killed in Minnesota vehicle accident

(Originally published at 10:17 p.m. MDT August 27, 2017. Updated at 11:05 p.m. MDT August 28, 2016)

(UPDATE: the driver of the firefighters’ truck has been charged with a crime.)

Two firefighters with a Type 2 hand crew were killed in a traffic accident Saturday August 27 near Blaine, Minnesota. The Minnesota Incident Command System verified that the firefighters were part of the Beartown Fire Crew from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in the upper Peninsula of Michigan that was en route to the Box Canyon Fire in Utah.

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community confirmed the tragic accident:

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community learned this evening that our Beartown Firefighting crew was involved in a tragic traffic accident. Two of our fire fighters were killed and several others were severely injured. Our hearts are broken and our prayers are with the family members and those injured.

The seven other firefighters in the crew carrier that were injured in the crash are expected to recover.

The two deceased firefighters were identified Sunday by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community as James F. Shelifoe, Jr., 23, of Baraga Michigan, and Alan J. Swartz, 25, of Baraga, Michigan.

The Minnesota State Patrol said in a statement:

The truck was southbound on I-35W near 95th Avenue. The truck left the roadway for an unknown reason, struck the median cable barriers, and rolled. A total of nine people were in the vehicle.

There were 11 other firefighters en route to the same fire. They were traveling in a convoy but had become separated.

According to Minnesota Department of Transportation, that section of the Interstate was closed in both directions for about four hours after the accident.

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in cooperation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs manages the Beartown Firefighters Type 2 hand crew. It is based out of Baraga, Michigan and is available for dispatch locally as well as nation-wide.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, coworkers, and friends of the injured and deceased firefighters.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.

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.

Wildfire activity moderates in Minnesota

Posted on Categories UncategorizedTags

Last week there were four wildfires in Minnesota ranging in size from 100 to 973 acres. The last time the National Interagency Fire Center released a Situation Report on May 13 all four of those were contained. NIFC is not updating the Situation Report on a daily basis.

Minnesota wildfires
Information about wildfires in Minnesota provided by NIFC May 13, 2016.

On May 16 the Eastern Area Coordination Center’s Daily Briefing did not list any uncontained fires. But they have the resources available in case more break out. Monday they listed 12 hand crews in Minnesota; seven Hotshot crews and five Type 2 Initial Attack (IA) crews. Four are assigned to fires, while the others were listed as IA Support, NW Region Fire Support, NE Region Fire Support, and IA Preparedness/Preposition.

Here is the Eastern Area’s Fire Potential Outlook for the Great Lakes Compact which includes Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan:

Great Lakes Compact (MN, WI, MI) Forecast Fire Danger for 5-16-16: Low to moderate. Fire Weather:
A few showers and storms will continue to sink southeast through the southern and eastern Great Lakes into Monday evening. Mainly dry and warmer conditions will prevail Tuesday into the weekend allowing fuels to dry out quite a bit.

Minnesota DNR slash pile escapes after nearly 5 months, starts large fire

A slash pile ignited by employees of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in November continued to burn over the winter and started what became last week’s 4,500-acre Palsburg Fire nearly five months later.

The slash piles were left after a logging operation on state forest lands.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Duluth News Tribune:

[Forestry Division Director Forrest] Boe said DNR Forestry personnel ignited the slash pile that started last week’s blaze Nov. 25. Foresters checked the pile again in December and found embers but determined they didn’t pose a problem because it was winter. A subsequent check March 16 determined the fire was cold.

Then came the hot, dry, windy conditions of April 15, which fanned up a spark that had lingered nearly five months. A DNR detection plane spotted the fire that afternoon.

Largest Smokey Bear statue

Smokey Bear statue
Photo by Gregg Boydston.

The largest statue of Smokey Bear is in Smokey Bear Park in International Falls, Minnesota. The 26-foot replica was erected in 1953 as a project of Koochiching County’s Keep Minnesota Green Committee.

Seasonally, you can see him decked out with gigantic accessories constructed by Loni Bright of Top That by Loni.

Revised schedule for the DC-10 air tanker visits

DC-10 air tanker Captains Jack Maxey (left) and Kevin Hopf will pilot the aircraft to four cities in the United States this week. (Photographed for TheAge by Paul Rovere in Victoria, Australia, December, 2009.)

The schedule for the visits of Air Tanker 910 to airports in Minnesota, South Dakota, and Montana that Wildfire Today told you about last week has been revised due to snow at Rapid City. (An air tanker should not have to suffer the indignity of de-icing.)

The revised schedule for the DC-10 operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier is as follows, but keep in mind that the times are approximate, subject to change, and could vary by up to 30 minutes or so. All times are local.

Tuesday, April 23

  • Brainerd, Minnesota, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Rapid City, South Dakota, 2 p.m., and departing the next morning

Wednesday, April 24

  • Billings, Montana, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Missoula, Montana, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

At this time there are no planned tours for the public, but they may be able to see the DC-10 through a fence or from other locations.