ELY— U.S. Forest Service officials completed about 1,200 acres of prescribed burning this past weekend, and the smoke kicked up by the two separate fires caught the attention of many residents and …
ELY— U.S. Forest Service officials completed about 1,200 acres of prescribed burning this past weekend, and the smoke kicked up by the two separate fires caught the attention of many residents and visitors here.
Crews from the Kawishiwi Ranger District completed fires both southeast and northwest of Ely. The closest to town, known as the North School Section fire unit, was ignited on Sunday morning, along the western side of the Burntside Lake narrows from School Section Bay to Furganger Bay. Smoke was clearly visible across portions of the lake and north of Ely Sunday afternoon, lighting up social media with comments from concerned residents. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued an air quality index of “moderate” for the Ely area, although much-larger fires in northwestern Canada were also contributing to the air quality concerns.
According to Forest Service officials, the North School prescribed burn, which blackened about 700 acres, was part of the North Arm Fuels Reduction Project encompassing several areas on and near Burntside Lake and along the Echo Trail.
Sunday’s blaze was a follow-up to the Pitcha Pine prescribed fire, which burned about 500 acres southeast of Ely the day before. That total included an 18-acre spot fire which burned in an adjacent unit that was planned for later this year. “The spot fire was quickly suppressed east of Hwy. 1 but still within the overall prescribed fire project boundary,” said Sarah Shapiro, a Forest Service public information officer in the LaCroix Ranger District. Fixed wing and helicopter aircraft responded to the spotting and doused the fire.
The Lake Vermilion Fire Brigade and state and regional fire personnel also assisted Forest Service crews with the weekend’s efforts, which were geared to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire near populated areas.
“These areas were treated to reduce fire risk in the wildland-urban zone in order to protect private property and organization camps,” said Shapiro, “The understory fuels consisted of balsam fir, a volatile ladder fuel. The overstory consisted of mature pine and mixed hardwoods.”
Shaprio noted that the Forest Service hand-treated nine areas within the larger fire perimeter back in 2013 and 2014. “A heavy concentration of understory and mid-story balsam fir within dense patches of white pine were cut and the slash pulled away from the pines,” she said.
In 2015 the unit was burned to reduce the amount of hand-cut slash, reducing the amount of hazardous fuels, and to kill the balsam fir seed source in the soil, according to Shapiro.
“Regular prescribed fire treatments also create a patchwork or mosaic of fire-resistant forest stands in the landscape that can also reduce the intensity of future wildfires,” she said.
Additional prescribed fires may occur this spring if conditions are favorable, depending on fuel moisture, relative humidity, temperature and wind. Exact dates will determined by weather conditions as they develop.
To keep informed on future prescribed fire projects, go to https://inciweb.nwcg.gov.