Jul
20
2006

Flames in the forest

Seagull Lake Island Fire: Photo Courtesy of Carol DeSain
Seagull Lake Island Fire: Photo Courtesy of Carol DeSain

Two months ago I spent a week canoeing, portaging, and camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. I visited many lakes, including Seagull Lake at the end of the Gunflint Trail. Today, the landscape of some of the lakes I visited is changing dramatically as fires move through the area. The Cavity Lake Fire is presently spanning about 22,000 acres. It is hard for me to imagine that some of the serene forests I awed at and some of the campsites I relaxed at are now merely ashes.

The wildfires in northern Minnesota got me thinking about the science behind forest fires. Forest fires (also called wildfires) are a natural occurrence. Lightning is the most common natural cause of the fires. Human carelessness and arson are unnatural causes. Droughts in the summer and high winds in the fall make areas more susceptible to forest fires.

The Cavity Lake Fire is a result of lightning. The drought conditions have created a dry wooded environment. Anyone who has a fireplace knows that the driest wood burns the best.

Also, this fire is moving through an area full of debris left over from a blowdown from a storm in 1999. There is unfortunately plenty of fuel to keep this fire going.

Most of the damage from this fire may not be apparent until it's over. The after effects of forest fires can be even more harmful than the fires themselves. Erosion, introduction of invasive species, landslides, and changes in water quality are a few of these negative outcomes.

While wildfires sound like a horrible catastrophe, they can actually be beneficial for an ecosystem. Periodic fires can help the overall health of the forest. They are important for nutrient cycling, improving habitats, and maintaining biodiversity.

It can actually be more harmful to prevent wildfires than to let them happen naturally. Suppression can lead to more dangerous and hotter fires, because the time without fires allows more time for debris to accumulate.

I am interested in revisiting Seagull Lake to see how the fire has altered the ecosystem I remember. From the photos, I can see it beginning to change.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Germany's picture
Germany says:

Wow, I was just to the boundaries in Minnesota a couple of months ago too. It is very sad to see the fire destroy the beautiful scenery. I feel like I can see one of my campsites in that picture. It is a good point you bring up about how it is good for the forest in some ways, though. I have read about a pine cone that will only grow a tree if it has been in a fire.
I saw some area when I was there on another lake that was in a fire a few years ago. There were some new trees and vegetation. I liked seeing the forest in different stages of development.

posted on Sun, 07/23/2006 - 12:44pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

what are the positive outcomes of a natural disaster?

posted on Thu, 09/21/2006 - 11:06am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i thought that it was not that cool

posted on Thu, 09/21/2006 - 12:24pm

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