Emergency Management partners update on wildfire risk. plans

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Sheriff logo - Gordon Ramsay


Sheriff's Office • 100 North Fifth Avenue West • Duluth, MN 55802
Phone: (218) 726-2340 • www.stlouiscountymn.gov

Gordon Ramsay

Date: April 3, 2024

Media Contact: Dana Kazel, Communications Manager
(218) 725-5049

Emergency Management updates on wildfire risk, plans

Last week's snowstorm put a welcome pause on the wildfire season in northeastern Minnesota. Prior to the snow, more than 20 grassfires had already been reported in St. Louis County this spring. But with snow melting quickly and drought conditions continuing, six agencies joined together Wednesday to provide an update on the spring wildfire risk and the work they are doing to prepare for it.

Agencies represented at the news conference include St. Louis County Sheriff's Emergency Management, US Forest Service, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, National Weather Service - Duluth, and the cities of Ely and Duluth. These and other jurisdictions have been working throughout the winter to update plans and prepare for potential wildfires.

"I just want to emphasize the cooperation that all the agencies and departments have when we're working and preparing," said Josh Brinkman, St. Louis County Emergency Operations Manager. "We're talking all hazards, all the time, so we're ready for it. We can put our heads together to come up with the best possible solutions."

St. Louis County unveiled a new online mapping tool that breaks the county into 1,600 evacuation zones, enabling residents to view the fire risk level specific to their community or neighborhood. The map follows the Ready, Set, Go model so people can prepare and - if necessary - evacuate. The map can be accessed at stlouiscountymn.gov/wildfire. The City of Ely has also developed an online mapping tool, and has worked with the county to ensure the systems are compatible. 

The web page also includes tips for reducing fire risk to property, as well as checklists on what to have packed and ready should a person or family need to evacuate quickly.

Other St. Louis County preparations include: Public Health has been working with the American Red Cross to update potential evacuation sites that could be used as emergency shelters. Meanwhile, Public Works has been clearing brush from along roadways to remove potential fuels and ensure roads are passable for emergency vehicles in the event of fire.

The National Weather Service - Duluth has been a valuable partner in planning efforts, providing forecasts and historical data to aid agencies as they prepare. Most of St. Louis County is experiencing moderate drought conditions. "It's very unusual to have drought conditions worsen during the winter because we normally have a large snowpack in place," said Meteorologist Woody Unruh. 

Above normal temperatures are forecast for the next several weeks through the end of April, which will lead to rapid snow melt and a return to dangerous fire conditions until vegetation greens up. "What typically happens in May, we're seeing in April," said Unruh.

US Forest Service staff in the Superior National Forest have been preparing through the winter to ensure agreements are in place for staffing and equipment to respond if a fire occurs. "At a national level, we are able to mobilize resources if conditions worsen," said Forest Supervisor Tom Hall. "The predictive services are showing we have above average risk of wildfires."

Laura Murphy, a Firewise Specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources provided tips for homeowners to reduce threats to their property. Advice includes cleaning out gutters and clearing leaves and needless off rooftops, and removing flammable items - ranging from liquids to mulch to wood piles - away from your home or outbuildings.

It's not just rural areas in the county at risk. Duluth Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj shared that his department has already responded to a dozen grass fires in the first three months of the year, which is nearly half the total number they see in an average year. He advised people who use dead leaves to protect gardens over the winter to remove them once the snow melts. Krizaj also reminded people to monitor air quality warnings when wildfire smoke is present.

Anyone interested in viewing the entire briefing can find it online through the City of Duluth's Facebook page or the St. Louis County Facebook page.

wildfire news conference

St. Louis County Emergency Operations Manager Josh Brinkman talks about efforts by the county and regional partners to prepare for spring wildfires, including the launch of a new online mapping tool. Looking on are Brad Roy, Ely Emergency Management Director; Woody Unruh, National Weather Service Duluth Meteorologist; Tom Hall, Superior National Forest - US Forest Service; Laura Murphy, DNR Firewise Specialist; and Shawn Krizaj, Duluth Fire Chief.