As many of you know on Tuesday October 1, 2013 the DNR was conducting a controlled burn in the Crex Meadows Wildlife Area. They planned to burn around 500 acres, but the fire spread beyond the containment lines and burned roughly 600 additional acres. With help from additional crews, including a Minnesota DNR air tanker, the fire was brought under control without causing any injuries or damaging structures and private property.
When this happened I saw multiple posts on Facebook and Twitter and overheard conversations in public regarding the fire. Many people couldn't understand why the DNR was conducting the burns in the first place. Some were quite vocal on how they feel such actions are a waste of taxpayer money and even stated it was an “arrogant” act by the part of the DNR to burn on such a windy day.
While some people question why the DNR burns areas of the Crex Meadows and Fish Lake Wildlife Areas; it is a very important process in keeping the grasslands areas healthy. Prescribed fires quickly remove dead grass weeds and woody growth, thus reducing wildfire hazards without the use of chemicals such as herbicides. This is not only better for the environment, but it’s also a more economical use of the taxpayer’s money. Burning off the undergrowth also restores nutrients to the soil and promotes new desirable plant growth. Woodlands, wetlands and prairies all benefit from controlled burns.
Some feel the DNR should quit spending its resources on burning and just let nature take care of itself. Those people need to keep in mind nature will take care of itself with fire too. While the DNR picks the most ideal times to burn a predetermined area when the conditions are favorable, nature will burn random areas at random times. A lightning strike can kindle a fire in the middle of the night that could burn for hours before it is reported and firefighting crews can respond. Lightning doesn't take into consideration the direction of wind or the proximity of private property and houses.
When the DNR conduct prescribed burns, they pick the most ideal times of the year. Early spring after the grounds dries out from the winter snow cover but before birds start nesting, and in the fall after the first frosts. The burn areas when the wind is blowing in a favorable direction, into the area they want to burn and away from where they don’t want to burn, like residential areas. Yes, that means windy days are a good time to burn. When you want to burn 500 acres safely before nightfall, you need wind to spread the fire across the area you are burning.
As last Tuesday’s fire showed, fire can be unpredictable and control can easily be lost; even by professionals. But when the DNR lost control of the fire, they were already on scene, the fire was moving in the planned direction and reserve personal were standing by. This allowed the DNR to get the fire back under control quickly with the damage being embarrassment, not loss of property or lives.
I will not criticize the DNR for their controlled or in this case their partially controlled burns. They are the most cost effective and safest way to maintain our area prairies. Given the alternatives of either crop dusting Crex Meadows with toxic chemicals or having wild fires threaten nearby homes and private property, I’ll take the DNR prescribed burns. Even when they burn more than they planned.