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New Carlton County fire initiative aims to protect landowners

The county has not had a coordinated fire mitigation program until now, despite the destruction caused by the 1918 fires.

The Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District office sign in Carlton on Tuesday, July 6, 2021. (Izabel Johnson / ijohnson@pinejournal.com)

The Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District is teaming up with Minneapolis nonprofit Dovetail Partners to launch a new fire safety initiative, which they say will bring fire prevention awareness and resources to Carlton County landowners.

The 12-month initiative is being funded through a nearly $30,000 Action, Implementation and Mitigation grant through Coalitions & Collaboratives, Inc. According to Dovetail Partners Executive Director Ashley McFarland, the effort is focused on laying the groundwork for Carlton County to begin a Firewise program.

Firewise is a national fire protection initiative spearheaded by The National Fire Protection Association. CSWCD Manager Brad Matlack explained that the program mainly consists of working with private landowners to identify fire hazards on their land through a checklist of wildfire risk factors, such as dead trees or firewood stacked near the side of a house. A rating is then given to the property based on the number of risks, with mitigation steps offered to help improve the rating.

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Matlack said that observations of fire risks in the county, as well as knowing the history of the 1918 fires that devastated the community, are what inspired him to begin implementing a Firewise program.

"With that fire history ... there's a lot of memories of that, and as a person who's familiar with Firewise a bit, you drive around and you see a lot of bad Firewise stuff going on," he said.

The district's collaboration with Dovetail Partners will be the first coordinated fire mitigation program in Carlton County, according to a news release, and while it is just beginning, it has the goal of providing necessary support for Carlton County to have a standalone Firewise program. Dovetail Partners has also helped implement similar programming in St. Louis County, which Matlack said will serve as a template for Carlton County.

The main challenge with implementing a Firewise program has been finding staff resources, Matlack said. As a part of the recent initiative, CSWCD has hired a full-time technician to help landowners with Firewise assessments.

Cloquet 1918 fire Ruins with people.jpg
Ruins of buildings in Cloquet after the 1918 fire. (Photo courtesy of the Carlton County Historical Society)

A steering group has also been formed to help with community outreach. Its members include Matlack, McFarland, Carlton Fire Chief Derek Wolfe, Carlton County Commissioner Marv Bodie, Ross Korpela of the Chub Lake Association, Carlton County Emergency Management Director Marlyn Halvorson, Carlton County Land Commissioner Greg Bernu, Fond du Lac Tribal Forester Christian Nelson and a CSWCD board chair Russ Kurhajetz.

Throughout the next year, the group will meet with small boards and organizations in Carlton County to introduce and discuss Firewise programming. They also hope to help coordinate chipping events, which encourage landowners to clear their property of dead or dying vegetation, and have the debris chipped and hauled away through a cost share program.


In addition to fire mitigation, Matlack also hopes to tie in other conservation efforts to the Firewise practices, such as the controlled burning of biomass and preventing invasive species.

“It really boils down to some options for landowners," Matlack said. "It's all kind of related to our programs."

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