Living with Fire: Fire Adapted Community Preparedness in Northern Minnesota

In July, the Forest Stewards Guild worked with Dovetail Partners, Minnesota DNR, USDA Forest Service, and others to host an outreach effort for seasonal and permanent residents and visitors to the Ely, Minnesota area. Ely lies in the heart of northern Minnesota’s fire-dependent forest ecosystem and is on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The area around Ely has seen a number of significant forest fires in the last several years, including one that entered the city limits.

The purpose of the ‘Living with Fire’ event was to increase residents’ and visitors’ understanding of fire in their community and the steps that can be taken to live safely in a fire-dependent environment. Attendees learned about the area’s fire history, aspects of fire behavior and ecology, approaches that firefighting crews take to manage wildfires, actions landowners/homeowners can take to make their communities be more resilient to wildfire, tools and resources available, and opportunities for prescribed fire to be utilized as a tool for ecosystem management and reducing wildfire risk. These presentations were delivered by a diversity of presenters including state and federal fire specialists, local volunteer fire departments, and the Forest Stewards Guild.

The forest around Ely has been hit especially hard by a spruce budworm outbreak leading to the death of thousands of balsam fir trees in and around the community. In the context of the dying and dead balsam fir trees, the conversations started in the morning classroom sessions were amplified. Attendees ventured out to look at fuel reduction projects in the surrounding National Forest, as well as Firewise best practices that had been implemented at some of the area businesses and residences.

In all, the ‘Living with Fire’ event was met with positive reviews and interest in further events and collaboration between the organizing partners.