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Maui fire is reminiscent of 2011 wildfire in Boundary Waters, forestry expert U of M says

MINNEAPOLIS — If the death toll in Maui continues to risethere is a renewed focus on wildfires and the devastation they can wreak.

In Sunday’s Talking Points, Esme Murphy looks at the increasing risks of fires here at home and in neighboring areas, including Canada.

Horror stories are emerging from Maui — survivors talk about the panic, the intensity of the heat and the wind, and over and over they mention the speed at which the fires moved, trapping so many and trapping so many homes and buildings were destroyed.

According to climatologists, there was a high fire risk warning that week. The island had been experiencing a severe drought and winds were extremely high due to Hurricane Dorian, which was moving far to the south. These factors have also been exacerbated by climate change. All this combined to make conditions ideal for fueling the deadliest fire in the US in over a hundred years.

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Maui is, of course, a long way from Minnesota, but a leading forestry expert says the rate of the Maui fires could happen not only here, but already with the 2011 Pagami Creek fire in the border waters. That fire started in August, but it wasn’t until a few extremely dry, windy days in September that it quickly spread to more than 92,000 acres. By comparison, the Maui fire burned more than 2,100 acres.

Pagami Creek fire

Professor Lee Frelich of the University of Minnesota is an expert on wildfires and climate change. He was a guest on WCCO Sunday Morning at 10:30 am. He talked about what happened in the Pagami Creek Fire.

“Actually, a huge gust of wind came and pushed the fire about 12 miles in just a few hours. Six rangers were caught by the flaming front, which was 300 feet high, and they had to take refuge in a small, rocky island in the middle of the lake, and they had no idea the flame front was nearby, no one from the Forest Service knew,” he said.

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This summer, the biggest impact of wildfires in Minnesota has come from Canadian fires making our air smoky and sometimes even dangerous to breathe. So far this summer, Canadian wildfires have burned 33.4 million acres, about the size of the state of Mississippi. And the carbon emissions from those fires have exceeded 300 tons.

You can watch WCCO Sunday Morning with Esme Murphy and Joseph Dames every Sunday at 6:00 AM and 10:30 AM

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