Six wilderness rangers who became trapped in Minnesota's Pagami Creek Wildfire subject of U.S. Forest Service study, use of fire shelters prevented injury

DULUTH, Minnesota , June 1, 2012 (press release) – Today the Forest Service released a Facilitated Learning Analysis regarding deployment of fire shelters during the 2011 Pagami Creek Wildfire on the Superior National Forest.

The deployment of the fire shelters occurred in the afternoon of September 12, 2011 when strong winds drove the Pagami Creek Wildfire on an unprecedented 16- mile run that entrapped six wilderness rangers in the Insula Lake area of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The rangers were making public contacts to ensure that no recreationists were in the area that had been closed due to safety concerns.

A fire shelter is a small, tent-like heat-resistant covering that wildland fire fighters carry folded in a small case. Its intended use is for situations such as the Pagami event where fire fighters cannot escape an approaching wildfire.

All of the wilderness rangers were carrying fire shelters and trained in their use. None of the six rangers were injured. Forest managers and Forest Service Regional staff determined that the event would provide an opportunity for significant learning through completion of a Facilitated Learning Analysis.

“The primary objective of the Analysis is to determine factors which lead to the deployment of the fire shelters and any measures which could be taken to prevent a recurrence on a future fire.” says Gene Blankenbaker, Deputy Regional Forester. “A secondary objective is to document the event with ‘lessons learned’ in a way that can facilitate shared learning among all involved in wildland fire management.”

One point of the Analysis is that fire behavior was the critical factor in the Pagami Creek entrapments. The fire moved in ways that were not only unexpected, but totally unprecedented for generations of firefighters and land managers in the area. Fire intensity stretched the operation and created problems where the system was functional—even successful—under normal conditions.

The Pagami Creek Wildfire began as a lightning strike and was detected on August 18 approximately 15 miles east of Ely, MN then grew to a total of 93,000 acres by September 13, 2011. A copy of the Pagami Creek Fire Entrapments- Facilitated Learning Analysis is available on the Pagami Creek Wildfire link via the Superior National Forest home page:

Additional background regarding Facilitated Learning Assessments as a tool to promote a learning culture that enhances and sustains safe and effective wildland fire management can be found at the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center website:

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