It’s not really news to anyone that our snow is nearly gone and we’re experiencing an early spring. And I’m guessing that most of you have memories of spring 2007 when the snow left and strong hot winds visited us in early May I’m not sure you can ever be completely prepared, but we’re working on it. Our fire and mobilization plans are updated. The Forest Service, Counties, State and Tribal partners have updated and reviewed our Northeast Minnesota Integrated Response Plan. I’ve just returned from a couple days in Canada where we met and reviewed our action plans with our counterparts in Ontario. Our remotely operated weather stations are up and operating to provide 24 hour data on weather parameters. Plus our equipment is being tested and prepared for this early spring.
Probably one of the greatest concerns this time of year has to do with all those grasses and herbaceous plants that grew so well last year are now dead and “cured” which pretty much means dried out and ready to burn. They start a fire very easily and burn very fast. Again that’s probably not news to many of you; I’m guessing you already know that is why you see various groups burning the road sides, ditches and fields. It gets rid of the “flashy” fuels and recycles the nutrients for the growing season.
Because we’re at least a month to six weeks from “green up” where the fire danger will go down, we’re taking some steps to help us be prepared. We have several grassy openings in the forest that are maintained in open conditions for some species of wildlife. Our maintenance plan may include mowing every few years or burning. This year we’ve started to burn some of those openings with an additional focus other than the wildlife benefits. I’ve asked our fire crews to run our fire behavior models before each burn to predict the expected fire behavior on the unit. Then as they conduct the burn, I’ve asked them to take careful measurements of fire behavior as the burn proceeds. The information will then serve as a tune up for our fire folks to prepare for the season, but will also help us maintain vigilance on the actual fire danger of our forest setting. We’ll then use that information to help inform the public and make any necessary decisions for the next few weeks.
As of this moment, the grass is burning pretty mildly and the fires are tending to put themselves out when the fire reaches the edge of the forest. That’s good because that is what our models are suggesting would happen. However I’m guessing we all know how fast the temperatures can rise, which also means how fast the grass and fine dead vegetation can dry out. We’ll be watching the temperatures, relative humidity and winds very carefully over the next several weeks and that is what I’m asking all of us in Cook County to do as well.
So, when you feel that spring has arrived and it just seems like you want or need to go out and have a fire; maybe that is the time to use a whole lot of extra caution.