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A huge and fast fire is blazing in the Boundary Waters. What will it take to contain it and what does this mean for the area’s forests? [Image courtesy H Dragon]

U of M expert available to comment on BWCA forest fires

September 14, 2011

A huge and fast fire is blazing in the Boundary Waters. What will it take to contain it and what does this mean for the area’s forests? A University of Minnesota forest ecologist who can provide insight is:

Lee Frelich, director, Center for Forest Ecology, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences


Frelich says many major fires occur following a severe drought, as is the case now in the area of the Pagami Creek Fire. “We have two peaks in the fire season in northern Minnesota: May and late summer into early fall,” Frelich says. “In spring, intense sunlight can dry out the forest before vegetation greens up. In late summer to early fall, drier air with higher windspeeds in advance of dry cold fronts arrive and vegetation is less succulent than earlier in the summer, thereby creating conditions for rapid spread of fires if a drought exists.”
 
Almost all of the forests of northern Minnesota are fire dependent, Frelich says. “Fire is necessary for reproduction of many of the tree species. Fire creates a mosaic of forest in different stages of succession across the landscape that maintains habitat for many species of wildlife. Moose, for example, do well in early successional birch forests after fire.”

Frelich expects the fire to be fully contained when a major rain event or the season’s first snowfall occurs. “Fires in the boreal forest generally cannot be contained by fire suppression alone.”

For historical perspective, the Cloquet fire of 1918 was 250,000 acres and the Hinckley fire of 1894 was 256,000 acres, but those fires were in logging slash on a landscape being cleared by settlers.

Wildfires in the BWCAW (not in areas being actively cleared by settlers) totaled 170,000 acres in 1894, 224,000 acres in 1875 and 445,000 acres in 1865. “So this fire is still small compared to great historical fires, but...this fire isn't finished,” Frelich says.

To interview Frelich, contact Jeff Falk at (612) 626-1720 or jfalk@umn.edu; or Becky Beyers at (612) 626-5754 or bbeyers@umn.edu.

Expert Alert is a service provided by the University News Service. Delivered regularly, Expert Alert is designed to connect university experts to today's breaking news and current events. For an archive and other useful media services, visit www.umn.edu/news. Views expressed by experts do not represent the views of the University of Minnesota.

Tags: College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences

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