Successful Germann Road fire response due to years of training and multi-agency coordinationIf there were those of you who didn’t know the Department of Natural Resources fights forest fires, I’ll bet you do now after the news out of Douglas County earlier this month.
By: By Cathy Stepp, DNR Secretary, Superior Telegram
If there were those of you who didn’t know the Department of Natural Resources fights forest fires, I’ll bet you do now after the news out of Douglas County earlier this month.
Thanks to the rapid, effective response of a multi-agency team, the 8,000-acre wildfire that ignited on May 14 in very windy, dry conditions was fully contained in about 30 hours.
DNR employees highly trained in wildfire suppression and public safety led the team of local, county, state, federal and even Canadian agencies in quickly, aggressively and safely fighting the fire that forced evacuations and threatened lake communities.
How can we find “success” in a tragedy such as this? No one was injured or killed during this dangerous wildfire. Our employees have undergone hours of training and refresher exercises based on national standards. They, in turn, have provided training to local fire departments and public safety workers.
In fact, the most recent wildland fire training for the Douglas County area was held March 27. Less than two months later, these same crews were successfully applying that training while they battled the Germann Road Fire.
The fire, one of many on that hot and windy day, was reported by three different fire towers on May 14 at approximately 2:45 p.m. Eleven minutes later, DNR crews were on scene. During the first few hours the fire spread fast leaping treetop to treetop. Soon, it was a 5-mile long fire that jumped a county highway and then State Highway 27. Suddenly, a major shift in wind direction had crews changing their tactics. Every curve the fire took, the DNR fire crews and team responded with confidence to cut it off.
The DNR-led ground attack coordinated 40 fire departments with 23 tractor plows, four bulldozers, and 16 fire engines. From the air, the DNR coordinated the use of resources we have under contract plus planes from Minnesota and Ontario, both of which are partners of ours in the Great Lakes Forest Fire Compact, through which we assist each other during forest fire emergencies. We were also aided by the Army National Guard who provided two of its Blackhawk Helicopters with buckets. Nearly 200 DNR staff from across the state and from several different department programs, led by the Division of Forestry, were marshaled to fight this fire and ensure the safety of our citizens
Yes, it is tragic that 17 homes were lost among the 47 structures burned in in the fire. But, we saved 77 structures. And through our aggressive suppression efforts and years of work developing relationships and training with local fire departments and other emergency response agencies, educating homeowners about ways to reduce the risk of wildfires destroying their home, and positioning resources in areas of greatest risk, we were together able to limit the extent of this tragedy.
DNR wildland fire experts were on the fire scene this week, studying the remains of burned and saved structures. We will use this opportunity to study the effects and develop lessons learned—both internally with DNR staff and with the public so we are even better prepared for the next wildfire.
Last week I talked with a gentleman who told me how thankful he was to the DNR and to “my” employees. But, I told him the DNR workers are not my employees. They are your employees, because we are YOUR DNR.