In September of 2011 a large forest fire burned about 10% of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It was named the Pagami Creek Fire because it started on Pagami Creek. It was the third largest fire in Minnesota history. This week Amy and I spent several days paddling and portaging along the Isabella and Perent Rivers. Most of the forest along the Isabella and Perent Rivers burned during the Pagami Creek fire. It was interesting to explore the area and see how the landscape and the forest have changed.
We paddled for miles and miles through burned forest. Almost all of the adult trees were killed by the fire. We were glad to be exploring the burn area in the fall when the weather is cool; there was very little shade. We noticed lots of small trees growing. These new trees like all the sunshine and will eventually replace the trees that burned in the fire. In a way it was sad to see all the burned trees, but it was interesting to see all the tiny trees and new growth in the forest. We had to remind ourselves that forest fires are natural. The Pagami Creek fire was started by lightning.
Forest fires play an important role in the boreal forest. The Boundary Waters is on the southern edge of the boreal forest. Can you find a map of the boreal forest? The boreal forest covers a large part of Canada, Alaska, Russia, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. The boreal forest forms a donut around the northern hemisphere. Fire started by lightning is a regular part of the life cycle of the boreal forest. Typically this type of forest burns every 75 to 100 years.
Fires help forests regenerate. They return nutrients to the soil. They create openings in the trees for animals to graze. Moose and deer like these openings. Some plants, such as jack pine, won’t grow until after their seed cones have been in a fire. However, when a wildfire burns close to a town, threatening people and buildings, the wildland firefighters work to contain the fire.
Our friend Lynn Anne Vesper was one of the fire fighters who worked on the Pagami Creek fire. In October of 2011 we interviewed Lynn Anne about the Pagami Creek fire and what it was like to work as a wildland fire fighter.
Amy and I also paddled through a forest fire in the Northwest Territories in June of 2011. You can read our blog post from that adventure and see photos of a forest fire up close. It was amazing to feel the heat of the fire and watch it burn. I bet that area has lots of small trees growing in it and is full of new life, just like the forest that burned during the Pagami Creek fire.
Amy and I have left the part of the Boundary Waters that burned during the Pagami Creek fire and we are camped on a beautiful lake called Bald Eagle. We will continue to travel and explore the Boundary Waters and look forward to sharing more of our experiences with you soon.