DNR equipment shortage
December’s warm temperatures and scarcity of snow have prolonged the fire season for DNR foresters and posed occasional equipment shortages that have had to be overcome.
Wednesday’s grass fire in the South Long Lake area (about 10 miles south of Brainerd) was one example. The blaze burned two to three acres in a mostly wooded and swamp area off a farm field, setting a stack of hay bales on fire.
Daren Wysocki, assistant area supervisor for the Aitkin DNR Forestry Area, said when the call came in the only equipment available at the Brainerd DNR forestry office was one engine and one track vehicle. The engines are equipped with water and chain saws. The track vehicles are all-terrain vehicles which are towed to fire sites.
“The weather has been way above average in warmth and overly dry,” Wysocki said. “Normally we have a foot of snow on the ground.”
The Brainerd DNR forestry office, during the peak of the season, would have as many as eight engines, but this week a number of them had already been winterized and put away and others had been sent up to Backus earlier in the week, Wysocki said.
In addition, he said the DNR has been battling a significant, 750-acre peat fire near Gully, in Polk County, which is where some equipment has been dispatched.
The grass fires, which take priority, have pulled DNR employees from other field work. This is a good time for DNR crews to thin hardwoods, Wysocki said, which is what some Brainerd DNR foresters were doing Wednesday in Roosevelt Township of Crow Wing County.
“There’s no mosquitoes to drive you nuts,” he said of the current weather.
Wysocki said they’ll keep fire equipment available until the area receives a good half foot of snow and it appears that it’s going to stay.
Wysocki urged those who are burning to be careful. Burning permits are required whenever there is less than three inches of continuous snow surrounding a planned burn area. Right now, with the exception of Cook County in northeastern Minnesota, burning permits are needed for debris and vegetation burning. Permitted burning hours vary by geographical area. Campfires are allowed without burning permits.
For information about burning permits, contact a local DNR Forestry office or check the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov and search for burning permits.
“The wind could come up and the fuels (the grass and brush) are dry,” he said. “And it doesn’t take much to get away from you. If you do burn, go back and check to make sure it’s out, especially if you have a brush pile.”
MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at 855-5860 or firstname.lastname@example.org.