Controlling Fires

Last week, it was perfect fall weather for prescribed burns. So the Forest Service started a few. Today it’s raining, and there only a titch of smoke smell left. (this photo from our deck is a smoky sunset , not flames. I thought it was sort of shocking and sort of beautiful)

The way I see it, prescribed burns are still forest fires. I wouldn’t complain about them, I’m all for them actually………………except that I don’t like forest fires. I could preach about fire as a necessary part of the regeneration of boreal forest ecosystem yahdahyahdah. I even believe it. I paddled through my beloved Kekekabic Lake a while ago, and thought—“Oh boy, this place sure needs a fire.Everybody likes renewal and new growth, but does anybody really like the death and destruction that proceeds it? It’s so much gentler just to have the old trees rot and grow mushrooms, don’t you think? It’s like the National Geographic specials where the lions eat the antelope. I don’t watch those parts, I hate that.

Incidentally, I know that Kekekabic Lake isn’t actually mine, and yet I still claim it. I have good memories there, it is long and cliffy and haunting. With hidden pictographs, sort of. It’s hard to get to–a little off the path. This is why I thought they should have consulted me before they burned near it. Isn’t that the way the BWCAW is? We all think we own our favorite spots.

Often, the USFS is so good at these controlled burns that you can’t even see much evidence when you are on the travel routes. And unless you have a strong opinion about a certain cedar stand, you may never notice. There’s a lot of pathless woods in between the lakes, where nobody goes on purpose. I completely get it, it’s a little dose of chemotherapy for the forest. But still, they started forest fires in my neighborhood, near my Kekekabic Lake. I don’t have to like it.

In September I wrote a note to my friend Diane who lives outside of Boulder in the Fourmile Canyon. I could so empathize with her stress at that moment—as she watched a wild fire blowing toward her home on a windy night, wondering if/when her family would be evacuated. I’ve seen competent fire fighters rush around with tools and tactics and front lines of attack, full of confidence, completely unable to tame the fire.

These October fires were not wild at all. It must have been sort of a heady experience for the fire specialists, like directing the wind or commanding the rains. It must have been the same giddy feeling that ancient people had when they first harnessed fire. We do what we can to survive, don’t we? It’s part of evolution, to manipulate the environment, to protect the people. Or to get ahead, or accomplish something useful. Those early firekeepers must have been freer to migrate to colder places. Cooked meat must have been safer= increased life spans. Once they figured it out, fire was a handy agricultural tool. And it had to be a status thing too. I’ll bet the “haves” walked with just a little extra swagger around the “have-nots.”

There seemed to be no Gunflint Trail controversy around these fires. Helicopters dropped fire, smoke and ashes and carbon filled the air and nobody complained. We all remember. Especially at Tuscarora we remember. Those prescribed burns completed in 2003 saved us here at Tuscarora, without a doubt. They were textbookly successful. And we trust the fire people. Pretty much, you know, but they are still igniting forest fires and that is still a risky business.

Someday these woods will burn again…….and someday maybe the fires will stop short of Gunflint Trail private property because of these prescribed fires. Who knows?—Any future summer wildfires are much easier to tame ahead of time in October, that’s for sure.

Prescribed burn season here is officially over, I believe they completed their objectives, and I’m glad about that. After all, Andy is just learning to roast marshmallows again, and this last week…….. was a minor setback.