Dry conditions prompt change to U.S. Forest Service fire management policy

Pagami Creek fire
Plumes of smoke from the Pagami Creek fire rise over trees on Tomahawk Road near Isabella, Minn. on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011.
MPR Photo/Steve Foss

The U.S. Forest Service has issued a directive to urge fire managers to move more quickly to extinguish wildfires this season. The agency's usual policy is to let many small fires burn themselves out.

Kris Reichenbach, public affairs officer for Superior National Forest, said the shift in the agency's approach is an attempt to keep firefighting resources free in case larger fires erupt.

"We're probably going to be more conservative and are more likely to move to active suppression when we have a fire start," Reichenbach told MPR News on Monday. "And the whole intent there is to make sure that where we have choices, we can keep our fire management resources available to respond to nationwide priorities."

The forest service will temporarily back off from activities like fuel reduction or habitat restoration, Reichenbach said.

Some residents thought the forest service should have moved more quickly to put out the Pagami Creek wildfire last year. It blazed across almost 90,000 acres in northern Minnesota and cost about $23 million to suppress, according to the Associated Press. But Reichenbach said Pagami was just one of many wildfires that the forest service found difficult to control last year due to lack of resources.

"Our fire managers are seeing an intensity and a rapid rate of spread, which is basically a result of the weather conditions and the drying," Reichenbach said. "Across the board, they're seeing some more extreme conditions."

Reichenbach said the agency will reevaluate the new directive as weather conditions change.

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