Location: Hallock, Minn.
On the morning of Oct. 2, 2012, Karlstad, Minnesota, was hot, dry and windy—peak conditions for wildfires. Jeremy Folland, Karlstad’s volunteer fire chief, was at his desk at Thrivent (No. 333), a financial planning company where he has worked for almost twelve years, but as the winds picked up, he decided to head home early. When Folland pulled up to his property, just a few miles outside the town, he saw a fireball the size of a small house rolling across his driveway. Folland called his dispatcher and activated the wildfire plan that he had prepared in advance, his eyes tracking the fireball as it approached his home. The fire departments called were able to control most of the fire surrounding his house, but it was moving toward the rest of Karlstad. “I had a bigger picture of responsibility to deal with,” Folland says. He instructed the fire engines to abandon his yard and save the town instead.
Thanks for an evacuation order that Folland issued, people were able to escape their homes and the school, hospital and nursing home as the town became cloaked in thick smoke. With reinforcements from surrounding towns, the tireless work of Folland and his crew, and a change in weather, the fire— which Karlstad mayor Nick Amb says was the most severe he had ever experienced— was controlled. “Jeremy was running the show,” Amb says. “I know he’s someone I can count on.”