Fire and Aviation
Superior National Forest's Fire Report for the 2022-2023 Season
Contrary to this winter, the winter of 2022-2023 brought record-setting snowfall, followed by low precipitation with expanded drought.
Read more in our 2022-2023 Fire Report
The Superior has a large and diverse fire program. With a variety of fuel types and well-established historical fire patterns, the Superior National Forest has proven to be a challenging environment to manage.
The Superior National Forest lies within a boreal forest system where natural fire occurrence is common. The Forest also provides for a variety of recreational and management activities which sometimes result in unwanted human-caused fires.
Fire management is an integral part of Land and Resource Management on the Superior National Forest. Fire plays a natural role in achieving long-term goals of ecosystem health.
Wildland fire management decisions and resource management decisions go hand in hand and are based on approved Fire Management and Land and Resource Management Plans. Wildland fire, as a critical natural process, may be reintroduced into the ecosystem where human life, property, or resource values are not at risk.
In all cases, protection of human life is the first priority in wildland fire management. Property and resource values are the second priority, with management decisions based on values to be protected. For more information regarding fire management on the Superior National Forest:
Firefighters count on you to do your part to reduce the risk of wildfires.
YOU can make all the difference in reducing the risk of unwanted wildland fires!
It may be as simple as NOT lighting that campfire when conditions are dry and windy,
or NOT throwing your cigarette butt out the car window,
or NOT leaving a pile of burning trash unattended.
Pay attention to current camp fire or brush burning restrictions.
More information about fire prevention and education visit Smokey Bears Website
If you are a property-owner, there are several steps you can take to reduce fire risks.
Thousands of communities are located in fire-prone areas. Residents must take action to adapt their communities to fire. These actions will help to reduce risks to their homes and improve the safety of the public and firefighters.
It is the responsibility of property owners to clear brush, trees and other flammable material away from your house BEFORE a wildfire occurs.
The Forest Service partners with several other agencies to promote the FireWise Program which teaches property owners how to be proactive about reducing potential losses in wildfire-prone areas. For more information, see National Fire Protection Association - Firewise Website or Firewise in Minnesota.
Prescribed Fire is any fire ignited by management actions to meet specific objectives. Prescribed fire is used as a tool for fuels reduction, vegetation management, and wildlife habitat maintenance on the Superior National Forest. Planning a prescribed burn begins months in advance. A written, approved prescribed fire plan must be completed, control measures such as firelines must be established, notification to the public must be made, and mitigation measure to protect values at risk must be set prior to ignition. Visit the national website for more information on prescribed fire within the Forest Service.
Current Year Plans
Burn Preperation Information
Site-specific burn plans are developed for each prescribed burn. Burn plans must be developed according to national standards.
During the planning phase, specialists conduct resource surveys to identify areas with cultural or natural resources that could be affected and need to be protected during burns. The burn plan includes measures to protect sensitive resources including threatened, endangered, or sensitive species. For example, if an eagle’s nest is present near or within a prescribed fire area, vegetation may be cleared around the nest and sprinkler systems may be set up to protect the nest. Specialists also evaluate fuel characteristics, topography, the location of buildings, and ways to mitigate undesirable impacts such as smoke. Ideal weather conditions are also identified. A step-by-step plan to light the fire and then hold the control line by reinforcing it with, for instance, water from hose lines or water dropped from helicopters. Burn plans are finalized with reviews from other resource specialists and line officers.
Part of the preparation for a prescribed burn may include clearing control lines, establishing helispots (temporary landing places for helicopters), and scheduling back-up crews and equipment. Public notification and coordination with other agencies is also part of preparation.
Prescribed burns are usually ignited by either hand crews on the ground with drip torches or explosives or by air with a helicopter or airplane or a combination of these methods. Following ignition, fire crews monitor the progress of the burn, patrol to observe behavior of the fire and take actions, when needed, to make sure that the fire stays within the predetermined unit boundaries. After the unit has burned, fire crews mop-up (put out hot spots) and patrol the area to make sure the fire is out.
Prescribed Fire Plans identify weather and fuel conditions appropriate for conducting prescribed fire. These conditions are a balance of the fire behavior need to meet objectives and the ability for holding resources to control the fire. Fire behavior modeling programs are used to identify the weather and fuel conditions that produce the fire behavior necessary to meet those conditions. Weather and fuel parameters that are given additional consideration include:
- Wind: In the boreal forest systems most large fires are a result of high wind conditions. Eye level wind speeds in excess of 25 miles per hour have been found to be problematic at times. Therefore, when planning a prescribed burn wind conditions are continually monitored.
- Drought: The other variable that has been present during large fire events in boreal system is dry fuel conditions. Prolonged lack of moisture produces drought conditions which results in dry fuel conditions. Drought codes are monitored to ensure fuel conditions are not too dry. For more information on drought indices visit the NOAA website. The Canadian Fire Behavior Prediction System is used to monitor drought conditions on the Superior National Forest.
There are a limited number of days each year that meet the conditions appropriate to conduct prescribed burning. On a give year there are 10-20 days which prescribed fire can be conducted.
Typically, prescribed fire conditions are most appropriate in early spring and fall. In early spring, fuel conditions are drier because vegetation is coming out of dormancy. Once green-up occurs, vegetation is at full water content and holds moistures making it difficult to burn. In the fall, vegetation is beginning to go into dormancy and water content is beginning to drop off. Also in the fall time, the shorter days create condition which do not support high intensity fire or prolonged burning which can be problematic from a control stand point.
The following list summarizes the steps taken to keep the public informed of planned prescribed burns in the BWCAW. Most of these steps are followed for all prescribed burns.
- Burn Plan: Site-specific public notifications are identified for each prescribed burn unit during the preparation of the burn plan.
- Yearly: A summary and map of planned prescribed burns is prepared annually. The summary and map are posted on the Superior National Forest website, and provided via a network that includes Forest Service personnel, Reserve America, cooperators, other businesses, partner agencies, media, private organizations, community contacts, and the tourism industry. Meetings are held with residents, businesses, and organizations in advance of prescribed burns to present information and answer questions.
- Week Prior to Burning: Advisories will be posted via the notification network, in campgrounds, entry points and at all permitting offices.
- 1-2 Days Prior to Burning: local residents, business, and cooperators are notified.
- During a Prescribed Burn: Updates will be provided to the public as available.
The Forest Service has managed wildland fire for more than 100 years. But how we do it - why, when, and where we do it - has changed. Fire managers have the ability to choose from the full spectrum of fire management options, from prompt suppression to allowing fire to function in its natural ecological role. There are Forest Service-specific and interagency policies and study recommendations that guide fire management decisions.
What hasn't changed is close collaboration with Tribal, state, local, and other federal agencies as well as work with our local communities to reduce risks and protect lives.
Wildland fire knows no boundaries. Local, state, tribal and federal firefighters all work together to manage wildfires. Pooling our strengths and resources helps us to be more effective and keeps our costs down.
In Minnesota, the Minnesota Incident Command System (MNICS), housed at the Interagency Fire Center in Grand Rapids, MN, is the leader. MNICS is an interagency group with state and federal partners that cooperate in management of wildfire and all risk incidents and provide standard procedures, practices and information to facilitate, coordinate and support actions on incidents in Minnesota.
Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs) reduce wildland fire risks across larger areas in a shorter amount of time by prioritizing and coordinating efforts across jurisdictions. Following the guidelines of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act 2003, the Superior National Forest, in cooperation with state and local partners, completed and implemented CWPPs for all three counties within our protection area.
Please visit the following links for more information:
- St Louis County Wildfire Protection Plan
- Cook County Wildfire Protection Plan
- Lake County Wildfire Protection Plan
The Forest Service is actively engaged with the community of Ely, Minnesota, which is a Fire Adapted Community
The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) is the focal point for coordinating the mobilization of resources for wildland fire and other incidents throughout the United States.
About Balsam Fir:
Fire and the Wildland Urban Interface:
Forest Management and Fire:
- Difference Engine: Fire on the Mountain (Babbage, Science and Technology)
- "Let it burn" - Prescribed Fires Pose Little Danger to Forest Ecology, Study Says (UC Berkely study)
- The Effects of Forest Fuel Reduction (USDA Forest Service)
- Science Basis for Changing Forest Structure to Modify Wildfire Behavior and Severity (USDA Forest Service)
Historic Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Fire Information:
Learn more about a career in Fire Management, how the role impacts a boreal forest ecosystem.
Forest Service, state agencies and private logging companies are helping the forest recover through planting, tree seeding, timber salvage and monitoring for natural forest regeneration.
The Pagami Creek Wildfire was first detected on August 18, 2011. Several areas are still being rehabilitated.
Ecological Burning on the Superior National Forest. When appropriate, prescribed fire is often used as a tool for fuels reduction, vegetation management, and wildlife habitat maintenance.