Ron Schara's column in the Sunday Star Tribune (March 26, 2000) "BWCA's Splendor Remains Intact" is a "nice" article with his usual upbeat style to enjoy the outdoors. But, lightning-caused wild fires are not "nice;" they start very quickly in blowndown areas. Many times they start at night and are accompanied by strong wind. They move quickly to consume standing timber, homes, and campsites. The BWCA and surrounding areas are "ripe" for a very bad fire. It has a huge amount of flash fuels, and all it needs is a dry period, another strong wind and a lightning strike. I flew the blowdown just days after the Fourth of July windstorm and it is the largest blowdown I have seen in my 40-year career. It truly is a disaster waiting for the real disaster.
I have been a fire boss and fire service chief on 500 or more fires from the Brainerd area to the Canadian border. The largest fire I fought burned over 20,000 acres and it did not take one life or cause one serious injury. Why? Because of the quick thinking of a few "fire wise" foresters. They evacuated all residences, just before their homes were completely burned. The BWCA wilderness is already evacuated, so why promote and bring in those people who are mostly novice to this unsafe condition?
Mr. Schara goes on to say "next to sickness or death there is no good reason to pass up coming to the BWCA and points beyond." I totally disagree. This disagreement is probably not a popular one, but then many good decisions are not popular, are they? I have been an avid canoeist in my younger years. I canoed the BWCA before it was the BWCA; but I would not, knowingly, subject myself or friends and family to canoe into the BWCA for many miles with the experience that I have with its present condition. It would not be a good night's sleep and certainly not "good for the soul." Mr. Schara's promotion of the BWCA is great, normally. I can sympathize with the outfitters and many others depending on this beautiful area to make a living. I was raised on a small fishing resort farm and we logged in the winter. Every dollar we earned was because Mother Nature happened to smile on us, occasionally. Been there, did that.
Mr. Schara also said "the U.S. Forest Service didn't do it (blowdown), nature did." True, but what nature starts, nature will also stop. Meaning that with a trillion dollars of the best equipment and air bombers and, thousands of the best fire fighters, this type of fire will not, I repeat, not be put down. Nature's rain will. I'm not talking about a small-medium size fire that is rather easy to put down, but a remote fire that is capable of generating its own weather system, pulling in huge amounts of air and throwing gas-fire balls up to 1/4 mile ahead, exploding and starting another fire. This blowdown has that much flash fuel volume, plus it dries out very quickly on the rock base. In a matter of days the danger can be explosive.
I have experienced a wild fire producing gas-fire balls. They move very quickly and are unpredictable. The expensive air attack bombers will not leave the airport when the wind is too high. Do you blame them? So, as a fire boss you just wait and pray that no one is injured or killed. This is very frustrating to watch.
Many people in Minnesota and people who visit Minnesota on vacation do not know about the lives that were lost in Minnesota in the early 1900s. Many people who knew about this have forgotten. They have forgotten because they feel comfortable with the new age technology and they have a false sense that our public agencies can handle anything that comes along, providing that we continue to spend millions each year. I repeat, man can not put down this type of fire, but they can spend more dollars to inform the public.
Now is the time for the U.S. Forest to do a little "Crying Wolf." Breathe much hot air into "Smokey" and do it loud and clear. Smokey Bear says, "Only you can prevent forest fires" but, he also means stay away from a dangerous situation. Let the news media dramatize this condition, they like to do that. It's okay to "Cry Wolf" for this, but don't wait too long.
I must give Mr. Schara two thumbs up. He made a very good solid statement, "Yes, the fire will come to the blowdown someday, but chances are it will not catch you, or you, or you." I would like to add two words, or me, because I won't be there.
My prayers go with you if you still want to canoe the BWCA.
(Bill Dumke is a Nisswa resident and a retired DNR Forester.)
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.