Editor’s note: Gloria Erickson is the Fire Adapted Communities Project Coordinator for Dovetail Partners and a FAC Net member. Her work also sometimes overlaps with FAC Net sister networks the Fire Learning Network and the Indigenous Peoples Burning Network. In this blog, Gloria shares a homegrown success story – a cooperative group of four property owners and their families in Northeastern Minnesota who regularly come together to perform fire risk-reduction treatments on each other’s land. Not only does their cooperative partnership make their homes safer, it creates strong bonds of friendship, knowledge-sharing, and community. Gloria co-wrote this blog with the help of co-op members to ensure a collaborative telling of their community-led success story.


Who inspires you? Who are your heroes? My inspiration, my heroes are people who face challenges with a can-do, how-can-I-help attitude. People who want to be part of the solution. Not as a superhero, but in leading by example and mentoring others. These people are respectful, thoughtful, know their limits, and are willing to share the responsibility and do the work. I recently was invited to a fuels mitigation/pile burning cooperative group gathering that totally embodied all of these characteristics. 

In Northeastern Minnesota, we are surrounded by southern boreal forest and an abundance of freshwater lakes. That’s why we’ve chosen to live here. It’s our paradise. Some folks think we don’t have a wildfire problem here, but our landscape faces similar wildfire risks as other parts of the country. One hundred years of fire suppression, insect infestation, and an increase in intense wind-throws are just a few of the things contributing to the elevation of our wildfire risk. Trying to figure out what to do to decrease wildfire risk and then figuring out how, actually, to decrease it can be disheartening and overwhelming to a private landowner. But the multi-generational group of folks I joined on a sparkly winter morning is determined to cooperate in doing their part to help their properties be more wildfire resilient and to mentor others who have similar goals. 

A group of friends formed this co-op group a year ago with a focus to help each property owner (four couples & two teenage daughters) with three goals: 

  • Assess each property for wildfire resiliency
  • Create a management plan and an approach to make the properties more wildfire resilient
  • Work together to do the work of clearing, brushing, burning, and hauling on each property.
Person with a red hard hat on crouches in near a pile of cut up wood and branches. Snow is on the ground.

A co-op member lights a burn pile. Photo credit: Roxanne Tea

The properties range in size from 5 to 20 acres. The property owners are always in charge of what happens on their land; they provide leadership, define the goals and a work-plan for the day, and facilitate a debrief at the end of the day to evaluate what went well (and what didn’t) so they can build and improve on what they learned. They also delineate manageable blocks to work on for each session. In 2022 they assessed, planned and worked on each property 2-3 times.  

They told me that each time they met, they learned more about:

  •  What it takes to steward the forest responsibly
  •  The uniqueness of each property 
  •  How to use equipment properly
  •  Safety procedures and First Aid
  •  How to set up brush piles and manage burning

They developed protocols and practices that best support working together as a successful team. They feel that clear, agreed-upon communication practices are one key to their success.

Seven people in winter gear stand outside in the snow in front of a wooded area around the bed of a truck. They have an assortment of tools and gasoline canisters.

Co-op members circling up ahead of a work day. Photo credit: Roxanne Tea


A man points at a cardboard diagram while another person listens and looks toward him. They are inside in a well-lit room in a home.

Co-op members plan ahead and strategize their risk-reduction efforts ahead of a work day. Photo credit: Roxanne Tea

Many things impressed me about this group on the beautiful Saturday morning I joined them. The group’s age range is between 16 and late 70s. Before the work day begins, there may be coffee and snacks. The host landowner goes over the objectives for the day. The group reviews where first aid kits are. They make sure the driveway is clear if an emergency vehicle needs to get in. They designate a person and back-up person to be ready to take someone to the  hospital if need be. If they are cutting with chainsaws that day, each person who is cutting also has a person or persons assigned to them for “swamping” and piling the material for future burning or burning that day. 


If it’s a burn day, they go over the weather conditions (including wind direction and velocity, and humidity levels), which piles to burn, and the assignments of who will be at which pile. If there is 3 inches or more of snow a burn permit is not required. If a burn permit is required, it’s the responsibility of the landowner to obtain it. They take breaks every hour, to make sure people do not get overly tired, and usually partake of water and cookies during the break.  If someone cannot participate with the outdoor activities that person is in charge of food, beverages and signaling the breaks. Everyone has a role. 

Two men in winter gear smile at the camera. They are outside in the snow, carrying logs.

Co-op members carry logs to a burn pile. Photo credit: Roxanne Tea

At the end of the day there is a lovely potluck feast. The day I attended was the group’s one year anniversary. It was pretty special to hear the stories on how far they had come. Members all admitted that using fire as part of property management had taught them so much in their first year. One member put it this way: “The enjoyment of our brush burning is about seeing the disappearance of brush and the visibly safer forest that results from fighting fire with fire as a cooperative social group.”

For 2023, they are working to figure out ways to communicate what they have learned to help others develop their own cooperative fire adapted groups and to share the practical knowledge, practices and wisdom of what they’ve learned so far. As they continue to help each other, they will continue to invite guests for a day who want to learn and have hands-on experience. The heart of what and why they do all this was expressed so eloquently by one of the group members: “Getting to know each other, our community, and creating meaningful relationships feels even greater than the work we are doing.”