Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ham Lake Fire Claims First Fatality

Ted Young, Gunflint Trail- Stephen Posniak, the person charged with starting the fire took his own life just prior to his trial. According to his attorney Mark Larsen said of Posniak, "He was charged with a very serious felony offense for conduct that we would have proven, at worst, was an accident, and I don't think that helped his outlook." Larson also stated that, ”The area was very dear to Posniak, who had visited every year at the same time for 20 years. He was a kind, gentle, 64-year-old former federal employee who found himself on the receiving end of a very serious criminal charge that, in our view, was an exercise in overcharging by the U.S. attorney,"

At the time of Posniak's October indictment, his brother, John Posniak, 62, of Alexandria, Va., said he found the allegations hard to believe. "This would be the first time in his 64 years that something like this has happened," John Posniak said of his brother. "To my knowledge, he's never been in anything more than a traffic ticket."

It is likely that Posniak did start the fire, it is quite clear that he did not start it on purpose. If so it was accident. On May 5 the day the fire started the forest was extremely dry and very windy, lighting any campfire, under such conditions, was a stupid mistake. However, it was not the only stupid mistake that likely contributed to starting the fire.

The day before the fire started outfitters in the forest were surprised to receive the following email from the USFS:

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

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? What were they thinking?

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