Minnesota

Minnesota

Prescribed Fire Protects Homes and Endangered Species from Wildland Fire

Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge - 2004

When employees at Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge in western Minnesota burned 35 acres of vegetation along the refuge's northern boundary in early 2004 to remove hazardous fuel and enhance habitat for the state-endangered ball cactus, they never realized just what kind of service they were providing for the town next door.

Only a few months after the prescribed burn, a lightening strike ignited a fire, burning through the refuge's tall-grass prairie and threatening the nearby community of Ortonville. But the prescribed burn area, originally intended to enhance cactus habitat and rid the area of excess fuel buildup, ended up providing a barrier to keep the main body of the 344-acre wildfire from jumping to private land. It also created a safe "anchor point" from which firefighters could surround and contain the wildfire. Had the flames spread into Ortonville, they would likely have burned several homes and farms.

Though the size of the fire turned out to be relatively small, conditions were extremely difficult for firefighters, whose efforts were hampered by high winds, rough terrain and the possibility of a tornado in the area.

Employees from the Bellingham, Odessa and Ortonville volunteer fire departments assisted the refuge firefighters. The Odessa and Ortonville departments helped fight the fire using equipment purchased with grant money from the federally administered Rural Fire Assistance Grants program.

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