BWCA Pagami Creek Fire: A 10 year retrospective Boundary Waters Listening Point - General Discussion
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      Pagami Creek Fire: A 10 year retrospective     
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09/11/2021 09:56AM  
I know that another poster put this up in a thread, but I couldn't find it so I'm posting this video of the changed landscape. Have a look.
 
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MHS67
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09/11/2021 01:37PM  
I wonder if the Pagami Creek Fire area gets as many campers as it did prior to the fire? I know I wouldn't want to camp in an area that had been burnt over to the extent Pagami Creek is. I would guess those folks like me, would move to another area in the BW, causing that area to become a little more cramped.
I'm not a big fan of let burns like Pagami Creek started out to be. To many things can go wrong. Just my thought.
 
09/11/2021 09:25PM  
I know very few people use the route between Perent and Isabella. I'd think that used to be a well-traveled route with the campsites that were along it

I'd also think Isabella itself is far less used EP
 
BWPaddler
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09/12/2021 07:58AM  
I was on a different Lake in the fall when the fire burned, but I took two teenagers to the forest service office and showed them the map of the fire nearby. It burned an area we had been multiple times. Then we went back in the spring and paddled through that area, seeing the new life and regrowth.

It was fascinating. But yeah, we did not camp in the burned area. We still haven't, but paddling through it is a great science lesson.
 
marsonite
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09/12/2021 08:24AM  
I read the accompanying article on MPR news. It is a good piece. The vidoe just provides some nice scenery and a few highlights.

One of the points in the article is that 50 small fires in the footprint of the Pagami Creek fire had been put out over the years, so the area was ripe for a fire. When fire is excluded, not only do you build up a thick layer of duff on the forest floor, balsam fir does very well, and balsam fir needles burn like gasoline (a lot is made of the budworm killed balsam and being a factor in the Greenwood fire, but live balsam burns just as hot but that's another story).

Clearly big fires are a phenomenon that are more common these days. Heck, when I was a kid I don't remember having smoky skies. Now it seems to happen every summer. The media loves to blame climate change (which I think is the biggest problem facing the world) but I think it's more influenced by 100-150 years of fire suppression.

There's no easy answers here. There's so much fuel out there that the opportunity for low intensity fires seems like it's gone. I will say that I canoed in the Pagami Creek fire footprint this summer, and it did have a beauty all it's own, I remind myself that what we think of as "nice" woods, thick and green, is not necessarily natural.
 
09/12/2021 05:06PM  
marsonite: "I read the accompanying article on MPR news. It is a good piece. The vidoe just provides some nice scenery and a few highlights.


One of the points in the article is that 50 small fires in the footprint of the Pagami Creek fire had been put out over the years, so the area was ripe for a fire.

There's no easy answers here. There's so much fuel out there that the opportunity for low intensity fires seems like it's gone. "


I edited your post Marsonite.

Lots of good info in your post. One of the misconceptions after a fire has occured in timbered areas is that the fire fuel load/depth in a "Stand Replacing Fire" such as the Pagami Fire will be minimized. It is actually the opposite. The available fuel depth increases after a fire in a timber stand replacing fire because the tree trunks do not get fully consumed in a wildfire. Those dead tree trunks will sit on the ground and dry out for 20-30 years and become more flamable in that time frame before they rot.

Their acutally needs to be a fire after the big fire to reduce the fuel load and and bun up the trunks after they fall to the ground. The fires that have been put out this summer in the BW have only increased the potential of another large fire coming through the area, especially in the Pagami fire, foot print.

I do not have a crystal ball, it is so hard for fire managers to decide when to let some fires burn and supress others, politics also plays a major role in their decisions.

My only advise for the future of the BW is. "If we continue to put the out many of the fires this summer that were in the BW " we will be setting up the BWCA for bigger fires than the Pagami incident. I have seen it happen so many times in my fire career.
Fire managers are gun shy after the Pagami Fire and I can understand why. If the Pagami Fire had gone according to plan, I think many of the BW fires this summer would have been allowed to burn.
 
09/12/2021 09:32PM  
What was "the plan" for that one before it went crazy?
 
marsonite
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09/13/2021 07:01AM  
cyclones30: "What was "the plan" for that one before it went crazy?"

The plan was to allow it to burn to reduce fuel and make future fires easier to control, create wildlife habitat, etc.

The Pagami Creek fire really was an unprecedented blow up of a fire in Minnesota at least in modern times. That sort of thing happened in the mountains out west but not here. Maybe LindenTree knows the specifics but since then the USFS has gotten a lot more cautious about the conditions under which they can let a fire burn.
 
09/13/2021 07:41AM  
I’ve camped in recently burned areas. I think 2011 I camped on Pickle Lake in the spring. I was to tired to move on. But it had a charm of its own, just not my dog after getting soot on her from chasing a squirrel. Haha. Back in the early 60’s we made a pilgrimage every summer to pick blueberries around Isabella. We quit going when they actually sprayed the area we went and killed them off. I think that was after a logging deal. But I’m guessing if man behaves, that area will flourish in berries like the past. I remember my mom always had a goal of 40 qts. Haha.
I hope people will embrace these burned areas and and also use caution as linden stated, there is still potential for fire. Like us humans after a bad weather event, nature rebuilds itself and sometimes is even more beautiful.
 
09/13/2021 08:19AM  
Just to build on that point, I was heartened by the regrowth on Sag and along the Gull River. It's been more than 10 years that I've been traveling in through that EP and the landscape, especially on the eastern shorelines has changed considerably with pine and birch slowly pushing up through the low scrub. It's been neat to see each year.
 
09/13/2021 09:21AM  
cyclones30: "What was "the plan" for that one before it went crazy?"

I will expand on what Marsonite said about the plan.
Specifically it was not to let the fire burn and do whatever it wanted, we call it managing the fire. What does that mean?

A week before the blow up fire managers of the Pagami Fire with permission of the Forest Sevice launched a plan to aerial ignite a few thousand acres between lakes 2,3, 4 and some natural barriers on the south to keep the fire within a box or perimeter.

Here is when things went south, they used around 30 barrels of Alumagell/fuel and dropped it from a helicopter within the foot print/box, unfortunately they did it right after a light rain. The fires just smouldered there for a week or so, never burning the area completely. "Think of a thousand little campfires burning in a few thousand acre area"
Those fires coutinued to smoulder until things dried out and they began to do what they were intended to do, except the wind event came up and the fire took off, burning outside the intended area to the tune of 90k plus acres.
My old boss was the operations section cheif of the fire when it took off, not when they droped the fuel from the helicopters. "That was done by the previous fire team".
My old boss told me the story saying, "the previous fire team just screwed up by droping the fuel when it was too wet".

In a nut shell there was no let burn policy for the Pagami Fire and no federal agency has a let burn policy, they call it managing a fire for resource benefits.
 
09/13/2021 10:56AM  
cyclones30: "I know very few people use the route between Perent and Isabella. I'd think that used to be a well-traveled route with the campsites that were along it


I'd also think Isabella itself is far less used EP "


Tap Schweady for this info. I know he posted a 2016-2020 breakdown of permit use by EP that came from USFS statistics. If I remember correctly, EPs such as Isabella and Hog Creek were somewhere in the mid-range of permits pulled. He has the graphic saved somewhere in his photo journal, I think? It's a very interesting analysis to see which EPs sustained the heaviest usage.
 
marsonite
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09/13/2021 07:40PM  
LindenTree: "cyclones30: "What was "the plan" for that one before it went crazy?"


I will expand on what Marsonite said about the plan.
Specifically it was not to let the fire burn and do whatever it wanted, we call it managing the fire. What does that mean?


A week before the blow up fire managers of the Pagami Fire with permission of the Forest Sevice launched a plan to aerial ignite a few thousand acres between lakes 2,3, 4 and some natural barriers on the south to keep the fire within a box or perimeter.


Here is when things went south, they used around 30 barrels of Alumagell/fuel and dropped it from a helicopter within the foot print/box, unfortunately they did it right after a light rain. The fires just smouldered there for a week or so, never burning the area completely. "Think of a thousand little campfires burning in a few thousand acre area"
Those fires coutinued to smoulder until things dried out and they began to do what they were intended to do, except the wind event came up and the fire took off, burning outside the intended area to the tune of 90k plus acres.
My old boss was the operations section cheif of the fire when it took off, not when they droped the fuel from the helicopters. "That was done by the previous fire team".
My old boss told me the story saying, "the previous fire team just screwed up by droping the fuel when it was too wet".


In a nut shell there was no let burn policy for the Pagami Fire and no federal agency has a let burn policy, they call it managing a fire for resource benefits. "


Thanks LindenTree. That's interesting. I had never heard the story of the failed burnout operation. Yes it must be a delicate balance between too dry and not dry enough.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the fire start out as a small lightning fire which they didn't suppress? I'll avoid the term "letburn"!

I wonder how many acres would have burned if all the little lightning fires hadn't been suppressed?
 
Exaybachay
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09/13/2021 11:19PM  
Anyone seen any studies on the moose numbers in that area? I would think that they would’ve done well after the burn.
 
MHS67
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09/13/2021 11:47PM  
I suppose I should have clarified my let burn term. Linden is right, the USFS or any federal fire agency would never use that term. That is a term I use. The general public still believes that all fires are being 100% suppressed. So, using, let burn, would not be good when the general public is loosing houses, cabins and infrastructure. I believe that is one of the reasons its called a management burn. To be honest that term is not used very often. This summer the USFS said, because of the drought all fires on federal land would be under full suppression. This raised allot of questions from the public. One in particular was asked at a community meeting. The man asked the Forest Supervisor to explain what full suppression meant. After he finished answering that question another person stood up and asked, last year was the Creek Fire that burned the cabin that has been in my family for generations under full suppression?

When you choose to do a management burn in a Wilderness area as well used as the BW you take a huge chance on it not going well. That puts peoples safety at risk. Linden is right also. the USFS was very lucky with the Pagami Creek Fire.
I'm all for using control burns. We do need to eliminate some of the forest fuels. Just not a fan of M--------------- B-------- . Ha!
 
WhiteWolf
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09/14/2021 02:37AM  
LindenTree: "cyclones30: "What was "the plan" for that one before it went crazy?"


I will expand on what Marsonite said about the plan.
Specifically it was not to let the fire burn and do whatever it wanted, we call it managing the fire. What does that mean?


A week before the blow up fire managers of the Pagami Fire with permission of the Forest Sevice launched a plan to aerial ignite a few thousand acres between lakes 2,3, 4 and some natural barriers on the south to keep the fire within a box or perimeter.


Here is when things went south, they used around 30 barrels of Alumagell/fuel and dropped it from a helicopter within the foot print/box, unfortunately they did it right after a light rain. The fires just smouldered there for a week or so, never burning the area completely. "Think of a thousand little campfires burning in a few thousand acre area"
Those fires coutinued to smoulder until things dried out and they began to do what they were intended to do, except the wind event came up and the fire took off, burning outside the intended area to the tune of 90k plus acres.
My old boss was the operations section cheif of the fire when it took off, not when they droped the fuel from the helicopters. "That was done by the previous fire team".
My old boss told me the story saying, "the previous fire team just screwed up by droping the fuel when it was too wet".


In a nut shell there was no let burn policy for the Pagami Fire and no federal agency has a let burn policy, they call it managing a fire for resource benefits. "


My .02 as a weather person. The "wind event" that moved the fire on that dreadful day in Sept had been forecasted for several days out, talking at least 3- maybe as much as 5 days. I had a solo trip planned Morgan Lake, and not only being a weather guy, was following for selfish reasons. Those "little campfires" should have have been extinguished ASAP when weather people saw W/NW winds at 15G to 35mph-- and what happens with W/NW winds almost all the time in the Northwoods? ( especially in SEPT) -- They advect in drier air . USFS gets the blame- but whomever gave USFS weather info from 2-4 days out with the Pagami should have been fired ASAP-- they had time to put campfires out is all I'am saying. I watched the event unfold and was in awe/horror that the Forest Service did nothing in the days leading up to the epic move of the fire that had to have been seen by eyes like my own of a major frontal passage. Pagami Fire was dereliction on many fronts. But don't blame it on the lead mangers of the fire(s)-- it's much higher up than that-- sadly- that deserve blame but will likely not get it.
 
09/14/2021 09:25AM  
WhiteWolf: "
My .02 as a weather person. The "wind event" that moved the fire on that dreadful day in Sept had been forecasted for several days out, talking at least 3- maybe as much as 5 days. I had a solo trip planned Morgan Lake, and not only being a weather guy, was following for selfish reasons. Those "little campfires" should have have been extinguished ASAP when weather people saw W/NW winds at 15G to 35mph-- and what happens with W/NW winds almost all the time in the Northwoods? ( especially in SEPT) -- They advect in drier air . USFS gets the blame- but whomever gave USFS weather info from 2-4 days out with the Pagami should have been fired ASAP-- they had time to put campfires out is all I'am saying. I watched the event unfold and was in awe/horror that the Forest Service did nothing in the days leading up to the epic move of the fire that had to have been seen by eyes like my own of a major frontal passage. Pagami Fire was dereliction on many fronts. But don't blame it on the lead mangers of the fire(s)-- it's much higher up than that-- sadly- that deserve blame but will likely not get it.
"


The same incident Commander of the Pagami Fire when it blew up, was the first IC of the Greenwood Fire when the type 2 team took it over. I worked with him alot and we talked about the Pagami Fire.

He told me the Superior NF was in a frame of mind to spend as little as possible to manage the Pagami FIre. "They went from a mindset to spend as little as possible on the fire to, spend whatever it takes to put this thing out" after the blow up. Ultimately a very expensive type 1 team was brought in from Montana to take the fire over when the local type 2 team from Minnesota would have done just fine. The team managing the Pagami Fire before the blow up was hamstrung by the USFS for financial reasons, limiting the use of airtankers and other expensive resources.

Speaking about the weather/wind event. I was paddling on Insula Lake the week before the blow up. After exiting the BW I stopped into the Ely airport and talked to a buddy who manages the USFS helicopter there. I asked him are they going to catch this fire.
He replied "no, they just don't know it yet. Did you see the weather forcast coming in the next couple days" I said no, cause I was out paddling. He said, "there is a large wind event coming".

Mark Van Avery (sp) the Kawishiwi district ranger and Jim Sanders the Superior NF Forest Supervisor transferred shortly after the Pagami blow up. We all speculated that it was a forced transfer,
 
MHS67
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09/14/2021 01:45PM  
WhiteWolf, very interesting on the forecast. I followed the fire very closely while it was happening. I remember reading a news article where the USFS said the wind event was not predicted. Thanks for your clarification.

Linden as you said, the USFS dropped alumagell a week before the blowup. According to WhiteWolf they knew of the wind event up to 5 days before it happened. Given the area I don't think the USFS would of had time to put together a plan and get resources together in time to keep the Blowup from happening.

If I remember correctly that area was in drought condition wasn't it?

WhiteWolf, it's to bad politics has to be involved in fire control. When The USFS could not fill a fire line position they would open it to Cal Fire to get it filled. So I have worked with them many times in my career. The one thing I will say of the people I worked with in the field, they were top notch!
 
09/14/2021 04:26PM  
MHS67:

Linden as you said, the USFS dropped alumagell a week before the blowup. According to WhiteWolf they knew of the wind event up to 5 days before it happened. Given the area I don't think the USFS would of had time to put together a plan and get resources together in time to keep the Blowup from happening.
"


Agreed, I do not think the USFS and team managing the fire would have been able to put those 1,000's of campfires out before the wind event.

I went past Lake One and Two the day or so of when the team ignited the area fom the helicopters and spent a 4-5 nites on Insula right after that with the wife on vacation. . I kept seeing the smoke colum building more and more each day and said to my wife. "This doen't look good, I may be back here." Sure enough the day after the blow up I was called back to be a task force leader, I had the area between Bog Lake and Section 29 Lake. One of the most rewarding and sobering fires I had been on. Sobering because I felt like my back yard was on fire. Rewarding because I had over 120 people I was in charge of. Sadly one of my Dozer operators broke his leg on my watch. I had a couple dozers under me, one of the operators got out for some reason, the other dozer repositioned, moved a downed tree while doing it and it caught the other operators leg
and broke it. A tough old bird he was, he isisted in getting back in his dozer and driving it out of the area to the ambluance, he ended up alright.
 
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