From Minnesota to New Mexico: Firefighter Brings Decades Of Experience to Save Their Region

Unprecedented winds, extreme dryness.... all starting to sound very familiar to Bemidji-based Chris Weir-Koetter.

We used to think of wildfires as a phenomenon of the Western states.

But after last year’s fires devastated some of the most beautiful parts of Minnesota, that is all changing.

One person who’s known for a long time how dangerous wildfire can be is Bemidji’s Chris Weir-Koetter

She’s been fighting fires for more than three decades, for the state of Minnesota, and now, for the feds in New Mexico.

She’s been to wildfires in California, and in Oregon in recent years.

Last year she was fighting them right here in Minnesota — in what she describes as the driest year of her lifetime.

Through it all, she’s met many people whose homes were threatened, and sometimes couldn’t be saved.

We spoke to Weir-Koetter over Zoom during a break in the action, from her spot in the Valles Caldera national preserve, where she could get good reception.

She said at the scene, multiple helicopters were performing air drops, as firefighters worked to push back the fire.

The extreme winds and dangerously dry conditions are unprecedented for that part of New Mexico, with timber moisture in the single digits.

Anything below 20 percent will burn, she said.

She also says it’s clear to her that climate change is responsible for the weather extremes we see reflected in Minnesota and all across the country, and that we need to take steps to mitigate fire risk, both around our own homes, and more broadly.

For more on what it’s like to experience these fires firsthand, check out her interview with the Morning Show’s Emily Welker.

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