Fair Use: USDA Public Domain 20130817-FS-UNK-0004
Wildfire season in the U.S. has been extremely intense this year. In California, multiple wildfires have occurred with Caldor and Dixie being the worst and still ongoing. In total the two wildfires have burned almost 1,090,000 acres. Locally in Minnesota, which had record-breaking droughts this summer, there have also been many large-scale wildfires around and in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) that left the area closed for the first time in 45 years.
Among the BWCA wildfires, many of them were initiated by strikes of lightning. On Aug. 15, the Greenwood Fire in the BWCA area was started by lightning. In a report by the Superior National Forest, it was estimated that the Greenwood Fire has burned approximately 25,000 acres of land within and surrounding BWCA. It was also reported that the fire was more intense than normal because of the extremely dry, hot and windy weather conditions this summer. As of Aug. 7, the Greenwood Fire is 49% contained and slowly more progress is being made. Nevertheless, much damage has been left in the surrounding environments. In the Superior National Forest, the Greenwood Fire has scorched and burned large sections of ancient trees surrounding Isabella, Minnesota, and Highway 2. Many neighboring homes and cabins were also evacuated this week as the fire continued to spread past Highway 2. In the surrounding area, other fires like the John Ek Fire Whelp Fire are still spreading and 0% contained. Campers and locals around BWCA around the time of the fires were also evacuated. Freshman David Schumacher said, “My group and I were setting up camp in a campsite on Lac la Croix, near the Canadian border when forest rangers informed us that we were now in a closed area and needed to change our course to evacuate.”
Like the current Greenwood, John Ek and Whelp Fires, many of the BWCA fires this summer were intensified by the hot and dry Minnesota summer season. According to the USDA Forest Service, the BWCA region is considered to be in moderate drought and these conditions elevate and intensity wildfire risks. The dry vegetation caused by extreme weather not only makes lightning more likely to set ablaze trees and plants but also continues to serve as fuel for the wildfires. And as humans continue to release carbon into the atmosphere, the hot weather patterns will only get worse. According to USDA research, data points to an average of one degree Celcius increase per year equaling around a 600 percent increase in burns for some forests.
While just short of twenty wildfires have been reported from July to August near and in the BWCA, parts of the BWCA have just last week been reopened to the public because of the cooling weather and incoming rain. However after the events of wildfire activity, air quality indexes are still poor as evident in the murky red color of the sky. According to the CDC, the residue of the wildfire smoke that lingers in the air – methane, nitrous oxides and even heavy metals- can trigger respiratory and cardiovascular discomfort.
Senior Jamuna Corsaro experienced the aftermath of wildfires firsthand this summer. She said, “When I was on a Widji trip in the summer in Montana, it was very smokey in the mountains and I had friends in certain groups particularly in the boundary waters who had to get evacuated because of it.”
Besides worsening breathing quality, dozens of houses and cabins were destroyed during wildfires. Sophomore Nadia Degnan said, “I have a cabin up north and it’s very concerning to hear about the wildfires up there. Ever since I was young, my family and I have gone up there for a few weeks during each summer so it’s very sad to hear that areas so close to [my] memories are burning. ”
This summer, firefighters and aid crews in BWCA have been working tirelessly to contain fires, build fire lines and evacuate people. Most recently 400 firefighter personnel have been working to contain Greenwood Fire which has burned 14 houses and cabins along with 57 other additional buildings. On Aug. 6, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Tina Smith and Governor Tim Walz also went up to Isabella to express their token of thanks for the fire crews. Expecting the dry weather patterns to continue and increase risks and frequency of wildfires, Klobuchar, Smith and Walz assured the locals of Isabella, Minnesota, with a proposal of a $40 billion bill for fire and forest management.
This week, as northern Minnesota and the BWCA expect to see some more rain and cooling temperatures, the conditions are starting to look a little brighter. Assessing the situation, local fire experts feel more confident about managing the wildfires in areas of the BWCA. Camping permits that are required for entrance into the BWCA have also been reopened for reservations.