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Illinois Interagency Fire Crew Returns from Deployment in Minnesota - 8/16/2021

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The Illinois Interagency Wildland Fire Crew returned recently from a 17-day deployment to assist in containing wildfires in northern Minnesota. The 20-person crew made up of highly trained wildland firefighters from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, and a member of a community fire department trained to fight structure fires, was deployed to Bemidji, Minnesota to assist the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The Illinois crew was assigned to the Radar Fire just outside of Bemidji. The arson-caused fire was burning through approximately 65 acres of pine forest, brush, and grass. Record-setting dry fuels, low humidity, and high temperatures made the fire difficult to manage. Fuel moisture levels were at a 50-year low. Minnesota DNR has one of the largest Air Support fleets in the eastern United States, so air tankers and helicopters provided the initial attack, while ground crews worked to contain the fire and locate hot spots smoldering in pine duff.

On July 25, the Illinois crew was split into two modules of 10 firefighters each to cover a larger geographical area.  The first group was deployed to Tower, Minnesota to assist local firefighters and the Minnesota DNR on several active fires. These remote fires, caused by lightning, were unprecedented for Minnesota in July. The second group remained stationed near Bemidji and responded to several arson or human-caused fires near populated areas.

On all fires, the Illinois crew assisted by improving several miles of fire lines initially created by bulldozers. Crews removed brush and other fuels that could carry fire. They also removed hazardous or burning trees within 30 feet of the fire line. Crew members pumped thousands of gallons of water from lakes and streams directly onto fires. Like the western states, northern Minnesota remains in severe drought which has created extreme fire danger conditions. Crews from Wisconsin, Michigan, New Jersey, and Wyoming continue to serve on detail across Minnesota.

Each summer there are hundreds of western wildland fires with thousands of acres of wildlife habitat and homes and businesses destroyed. All expenses for the Illinois Interagency Fire Crew deployment are covered by the U.S. Forest Service through an interagency agreement with the IDNR Division of Forest Resources.

Illinois Wildland Fire Crew members include:

Illinois Department of Natural Resources Tom Gargrave – Forestry Dave Griffith – Forestry Ben Snyder – Forestry Jenny Lesko-Forestry Jim Tresouthick-Forestry Wade Bloemer-Forestry Rich Lewis-Strategic Services Ray Geroff-Natural Heritage Brad Semel-Natural Heritage Wade Ulrey-Natural Heritage John Nelson-Nature Preserves Commission Nick Bumgarner-Land Management Steve Letizia-Land Management (EMT) Tim Probst-Land Management Eric Esker-Land Management Kyle Burkwald-Conservation Review Consultation Adrian Walker-Grants and Federal Aid

Alan Obrien-Structure Firefighter (Paramedic)

Ruth Campos-The Nature Conservancy Emma Ensley-The Nature Conservancy

Jon Yeater-Westmont Forester