Commentary: Save wildfire blame for laterIt’s easy to say that complaining about forest management practices is coming too soon while the fire remains a danger. Safety first, the forest service says. But when residents were told repeatedly before the weekend blowup that the fire was “contained” in the wilderness and things are in “mop up” and firefighters are being called off, one can understand the anger.
By: Mike Creger, Lake County News Chronicle
With fear for the loss of property and livelihoods, you can’t blame those living and working on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for a little angst when it comes to the development of the now massive Pagami Creek Fire.
Groans filled the Isabella Community Center Monday night when Forest Service officials described the origin of the fire. What has become a burn area of more than 100,000 acres grew from a lightning-caused bog fire just west of Lake One. The service let it go and made steps to protect the non-BWCAW area along the Fernberg Road. A week ago, back burns and sprinkling, along with some air drops, had the service in “mop up” mode.
If more fire burned, it was only good for the regeneration of the forest in the wilderness, where there is no inhabitance by humans. Then came the wind over the past weekend and persistent dry and hot weather. On Monday, with gust of 40 mph, the fire blew up and raced 16 miles to the south and east, threatening the Isabella area and points east on the southern border.
The service admits it was counting on a change in the weather and winds to help slow the fire and keep it in the BWCAW. Now it is trying to quell an “erratic” and historic fire, the largest since the deadly fires of the early 1900s when logged off areas containing plenty of fuel in the form of slash led to the forest management practices of today.
All well and good for the forest in the BWCAW, neighbors say, but what about us?
The questions came Monday and Tuesday at public meetings in Isabella, Ely, and Grand Marais — the ire coming even before details on where the fire was or evacuation procedures.
It’s easy to say that complaining about forest management practices is coming too soon while the fire remains a danger. Safety first, the forest service says. But when residents were told repeatedly before the weekend blowup that the fire was “contained” in the wilderness and things are in “mop up” and firefighters are being called off, one can understand the anger.
The forest service seemingly discounted the severe drought that has kept hold in the BWCAW, allowing for more head scratching on how the early fire was handled.
This is not to discount the massive effort by emergency responders to keep canoers and residents out of danger. Lake County officials have shown they were ready for the fire if it crossed out of the BWCAW. A shelter was set up in Finland and sheriff’s office deputies worked tirelessly to patrol areas in line with the fire.
Those efforts will continue as the fire marches on, now burning too fast on the southeast edge to fight.
It’s important to remember that while the first efforts to fight the fire can be questioned, the effort now on saving lives and property can only be applauded. There is time for questioning forest management, but we need to focus now on fire management.
Save that rightful angst for later as public meetings are called to deal with immediate dangers, the reality on the ground.
And say a prayer for those remaining in harm’s way.
Mike is the editor of the News-Chronicle.