Firefighters battle wildfires in northwest Minn.Firefighters were battling a series of wildfires Monday that covered about 2,000 acres in northwest Minnesota and southern Manitoba. As many as 150 firefighters were working Sunday and Monday to fight a total of seven fires that were burning out of control in the drought-stressed region. Another 50 to 60 were expected join the effort by today, including two 20-person crews from Utah and Pennsylvania, according to Jean Bergerson, public information officer with Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
By: By Kevin Bonham , Forum Communications, The Jamestown Sun
Firefighters were battling a series of wildfires Monday that covered about 2,000 acres in northwest Minnesota and southern Manitoba.
As many as 150 firefighters were working Sunday and Monday to fight a total of seven fires that were burning out of control in the drought-stressed region. Another 50 to 60 were expected join the effort by today, including two 20-person crews from Utah and Pennsylvania, according to Jean Bergerson, public information officer with Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The National Weather Service issued a “red flag fire warning” throughout western Minnesota between 1 and 7 p.m. Monday, but the agency expected it to be extended into today. Most counties in North Dakota also have burn bans in place, including Grand Forks, Walsh, and Pembina, and Nelson County issued its ban on Monday.
Minnesota and northeast North Dakota are experiencing an extremely dry fall. Approximately 96 percent of Minnesota is listed in dry to extreme drought conditions.
“The key message is this area is 13 to 15 inches behind normal in rainfall this year, and things that normally don’t start fires will start a fire,” Bergerson said, including mowers being used to clear trails for hunters and hot exhaust pipes on ATVs.
“The other problem is the weather for the next two days,” she said.
Unseasonably warm temperatures, low humidity and increasing wind speeds were forecast through today.
The National Weather Service forecasts high temperatures today in the 70s, with southerly winds of 10 to 25 mph, gusting to as high as 34 mph.
Helicopters, water-scooping aircraft and single-engine aircraft dropping retardant have been used in firefighting efforts.
Two fires Sunday were reported within 30 minutes of each other, between 1:15 and 1:45 p.m., according to Jeff Edmunds, duty officer and public information officer with Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Northwest office in Bemidji.
Those fires prompted DNR to activate its extended attack plan, which calls in extra equipment and manpower from other regions for assistance or to be placed on standby. DNR firefighters came from Blackduck, Bemidji and Park Rapids districts.
“It was quite the weekend,” he said.
One of the Sunday fires, referred to as the County 27 fire, was burning about 500 acres and was about 50 percent contained by late last night. About 60 DNR firefighters were on the scene of that fire late Sunday. The fire was located about seven miles southwest of Karlstad, Minn.
“There was still some pretty active fire at nightfall last night,” Bergerson said Monday.
In addition, about 90 local volunteer firefighters worked for about eight hours on Sunday, protecting property in the fire near Karlstad, according to the Kittson County Sheriff’s Department. The crew included about 50 volunteers from the Karlstad Fire Department and about 10 each from other nearby departments, including Lake Bronson, Kennedy, Stephen and Newfolden.
One shed was destroyed near in the Karlstad-area fire, but no homes were lost, according to the sheriff’s department.
The other Sunday afternoon fire, called the Minnie Fire, had burned about 40 acres and was about 10 percent contained, as of 11 p.m. Sunday.
The Minnie Fire is about six miles north of Fourtown, Minn., in Beltrami County, about 60 miles northeast of Thief River Falls. The County 27 fire is located in northern Marshall County, about five miles southwest of Karlstad, Minn.
The largest weekend fire, covering approximately 980 acres as of early this morning, was located north of Lancaster, Minn., along the Minnesota-Manitoba border. While most of the fire is on the Canadian side of the border, the combination of dry conditions and shifting gusty winds are raising the risk of the fire spreading in Kittson County, according to Bergerson.
One part-time residence was destroyed in the fire north of Lancaster. Lancaster, Lake Bronson and Hallock, Minn., volunteer fire departments worked that fire, along with the Hallock Ambulance Service.
Four separate weekend fires, totaling about 500 acres, continued to be fought Monday in the Middle River area, including the Elm Lake Wildlife Area, where three hunters were reported lost for several hours on Saturday.
While the County 27 fire was burning in an area of mostly grass, the Fourtown fire area contains a mix of grass, pine trees, peat and other substances that have been extremely dry in recent months.
A total of 564 wildfires have been reported in northwest Minnesota this year, covering about 21,500 acres. That’s about half of the 1,124 reported fires in the entire state, but about 80 percent of the nearly 26,000 total acres burned statewide.
Campfire restrictions are in place in northwest and central Minnesota, while burning restrictions are in effect throughout most of the state.