DNR slash pile causes Beltrami Island State Forest fire

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources just issued this news release in advance of a 2 p.m. news conference regarding the cause of the Palsburg Fire in Beltrami Island State Forest:

Fire investigators have determined that the recent Palsburg Fire, which burned more than 4,500 acres of wild lands in Roseau County, originated from a slash pile the Department of Natural Resources burned last fall. Slash is branches and other woody debris that remains after a logging operation.

Driven by strong south wind, the Palsburg Fire that started April 15 in Beltrami Island State Forest south of Warroad, Minn., burned more than 4,500 acres of forest lands. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resource announced Friday afternoon that a slash pile the DNR ignited last fall caused the fire. (Minnesota DNR photo)

Driven by strong south wind, the Palsburg Fire that started April 15 in Beltrami Island State Forest south of Warroad, Minn., burned more than 4,500 acres of forest lands. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resource announced Friday afternoon that a slash pile the DNR ignited last fall caused the fire. (Minnesota DNR photo)

“This shows us, that under current conditions, you can’t be too cautious,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “The state is very dry and we need to take extraordinary precautions with fire.”

Left by the logging operation in November, the DNR burned the slash pile Nov. 25 while the ground was snow-covered. Slash is burned as part of routine fire-prevention efforts and in preparing a harvested site for tree planting.

DNR foresters checked the burned pile in December, found some embers inside but determined they didn’t pose a problem because it was early winter.

Foresters checked the slash pile the week of March 16 and determined the fire was cold.

Almost five months after the pile was originally burned, on April 15, smoke was spotted in the area during a fire-detection flight.

Due to warm temperatures, low humidity and strong winds, the fire spread quickly. The active fire was controlled the next morning, but the Palsburg Fire burned 4,550 acres of mostly pine. No structures were lost or injuries reported. Nearly all the land was DNR-administered forest land; a small portion was tribal land.

Fire investigators, who are currently finalizing their reports, determined that an ember that stayed hot two feet underground in the original slash fire caused the wildfire. An extremely dry spring due to below normal snowfall and lack of rain added to the problem.

The DNR’s Forestry Division will pay the cost of putting out the Palsburg Fire, said the division’s director, Forrest Boe. “After fire investigations, parties responsible for starting a fire are held responsible for paying for fire suppression efforts. The responsible party here is the Division of Forestry,’’ Boe said.

A final cost has yet to be determined.

The DNR plans to ask an independent government agency, with relevant forestry expertise, to conduct a review of this incident. The independent reviewer hasn’t been determined yet.

Boe said it is rare for a DNR-burned slash pile to cause a wildfire.

However, the unusual weather conditions, the lack of snowfall and low humidity have led to extreme fire conditions in northwestern Minnesota this spring. The DNR is on high alert when it comes to checking on extinguished fires and others should be as well.

Boe said the DNR will learn valuable lessons from this incident and will implement any new recommended practices immediately. He said he hopes to share those lessons with others in the forestry and fire-prevention community so that incidents like this don’t happen again.

Plans for salvage of the trees left from the Palsburg Fire have already begun. Merchantable trees will be sold for forest products.

Lake of the Woods ice update

LOW042315As goes the wind, so goes the ice on Lake of the Woods.

This afternoon’s MODIS Today satellite image of Lake of the Woods shows a strip of open water on most of Buffalo Bay in Manitoba and the western third of Muskeg Bay near Warroad, Minn. Pushed by westerly winds, the ice sheet continues to cover most of Big Traverse Bay to the east, with the exception of Four-Mile Bay and adjacent areas on the Ontario side of the lake. Much of the Northwest Angle also has open water, but a large ice sheet that lingers in Little Traverse Bay likely will move if the wind switches.

Either way, it won’t be long before the big lake is open. With Minnesota’s May 9 fishing opener still more than two weeks away, it’s a safe bet the big lake will be ice free coming opening day. That will be a change from the past two years, when most of the Big Traverse remained ice covered for the first several days of fishing season.

Devils Lake is ice free, as well, and with North Dakota’s fishing season open year-round, it shouldn’t be long before walleye reports begin to surface.

Palsburg Fire winding down

Shawn Olsen of DNR Forestry in Wannaska, Minn., shared some excellent photos with me last night showing the aftermath of the Palsburg Fire in Beltrami Island State Forest, which burned some 4,500 acres near Bemis Hill south of Warroad, Minn. I had requested the photos for a story I’m running in this Sunday’s Northland Outdoors section looking at the fire’s long-term impact on forest and wildlife resources.

Kelly Cole, a logger from Warroad, Minn., shared this photo of some of the devastation from the Palsburg Fire.

Kelly Cole, a logger from Warroad, Minn., shared this photo of some of the devastation from the Palsburg Fire.

Kelly Cole, a Warroad logger who was onhand fighting the fire, also shared several photos capturing the extent of the damage.

In an update Tuesday, the Department of Natural Resources said the precipitation that fell the past few days has kept fire activity to a minimum, and the size of the burned area remains at 4,550 acres. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, officials say.

More from Tuesday’s DNR update:

  • Two hand crews, two overhead resources, one contract dozer and a Warroad DNR water tender currently remain on the incident.  No air resources are assigned to the fire, though the Roseau helicopter is available if needed.
  • Tuesday, fire resources worked biomass and slash piles and a few hot spots remaining within the fire containment area.  Resources currently on hand are expected to continue to work problem areas through the week.
  • The Thompson Forest Road is currently open to vehicle traffic.  However, other roads in the vicinity of the fire (Black’s Winner, Palsburg and Root) still have 1,000 pound road restrictions in place.
A T-shirt and hoodie now being marketed commemorates the Palsburg Fire.

A T-shirt and hoodie now being marketed commemorates the Palsburg Fire.

In related news, Penny Turgeon-Kimble of Warroad, who graciously shared photos of the fire last week (including a handful that appeared in the Herald), has designed a T-shirt commemorating the fire. She owns the T-Shirt Barrel in Warroad, and because her help in covering the fire long distance was invaluable, I thought I’d give her T-shirts a little plug, so here goes: T-shirts cost $16 and hoodies cost $30. For more info, call (218) 386-2728.