One fire = One life

One of the saddest stories around here in a long time is the death last week of Stephen Posniak of Alexandria, Virginia. Posniak, charged with setting (everyone seems to concede it was an accident) the Ham Lake fire in northern Minnesota that burned thousands of acres, destroyed 150 buildings, and cost $11 million to put out, killed himself.

From all accounts, Posniak was a nice guy who loved the Boundary Waters and couldn’t live with the stigma of being “that guy” once the government decided it would extract its pound of flesh, even seeking its $11 million back. Pozniak didn’t have $11 million.

Clearly the guy messed up, but surely someone is wondering whether the prosecution was appropriate. “Can’t someone just make a mistake?” they ask.

“I’d known Steve since we were classmates at Wilson High School, and what this represents is an accident caused by carelessness, turned into a tragedy by Mother Nature, and then compounded a thousandfold by the malicious zeal of a prosecutor,” Andy Moursund, a long-time friend said (Washington City Paper).

Others say people should be held accountable for their contribution to an incident.

OK, then.

The Edge, a blog in northern Minnesota, points out today that on the day before the fire, the U.S. Forest Service sent out this memo:


Sent: Friday, May 04, 2007 10:17 AM

Subject: Fire Restrictions

There are no fire restrictions in place for this week in the BWCAW, so

what that means is visitors can have a campfire.

Gunflint Ranger District

2020 W. Highway 61, Grand Marais, MN 55604

Says the writer: “The email was sent despite the fact everyone living in the forest was will aware how dry the forest was and that over the next few days high winds were predicted. Lighting any campfire was certainly stupid but what about the actions of the USFS to even allow fires under such conditions?”

  • Karen L. Dingle

    When I was up at the end of the Gunflint with a group, organized by the outfitters who were affected by the fire, to plant white pine, the outfitters said that for years they have urged USFS to not allow campfires until after greenup, because conditions are almost always fire-prone; the people who live up there all the time know what conditions are like on a daily basis. The USFS, also up there on a daily basis, seems not to know.