What if it happened here? Bracing for a Minnesota wildfire

Published 5:11 pm Friday, November 23, 2018

By Cathy Wurzer and Cody Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio News


As the deadly and destructive wildfires in California begin waning, northern Minnesotans might have a logical question: What if it happened here?

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While Minnesota wildfires haven’t matched the extremity of the blazes Californians now see on a regular basis, parts of the state are vulnerable.

Big blazes have hit Minnesota before, too.

Seven years ago, more than 92,000 acres of northern Minnesota burned in what’s now know as the Pagami Creek fire. Most of the damage happened in a single day.

In 2012, the Highway 1 fire forced evacuations in parts of Ely.

BJ Kohlstedt, emergency management director for Minnesota’s Lake County, gave some advice for how to prepare for wildfires.

You can’t prevent wildfires — they’re part of the natural forest cycle. But you can mitigate them, Kohlstedt said.

“Preparedness begins at home,” she said. “There’s a lot that each of us can do to prevent structure damage and loss of property and injury and death from wildfires.”

Here are a few best practices for wildfire safety:

• Clear especially flammable trees — such as balsam fir — 30 feet from your home.

• Move your woodpile away from your house.

• If you have a wooden deck fewer than 3 feet off the ground, fence it off with quarter-inch hardware cloth, Kohlstedt said, “so that embers and dry leaves can’t blow into there.” Fence off attic vents to keep debris out, too.

• Sign up for an emergency notification system. Lake County uses CodeRed — the same system used in Paradise, Calif. There were issues with evacuation orders in Paradise, but it’s important to note: Notification services often require users to opt-in and provide their contact information. Be sure to look up specific services for your county.

• In case disaster hits, have an evacuation plan. Kohlsted said Lake County officials have worked with homeowner association to create custom evacuation plans via water or ATV exits if a road is blocked by fire. The more remote your location, the more you’ll have to custom-tailor a plan.