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Fire danger remains very high in lakes area

Fire danger in Cass and Crow Wing counties remains at very high levels and no burning permits are being issued, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reported Thursday.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources updated its fire danger map Thursday.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources updated its fire danger map Thursday.

Fire danger in Cass and Crow Wing counties remains at very high levels and no burning permits are being issued, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reported Thursday.

Portions of northwestern and northeastern Minnesota along with many of the metro counties are also designated "very high" risk. Aitkin, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties and the rest of the state remain at high risk of fire danger.

Although low winds and overcast skies lowered fire risk Thursday, moderate drought conditions persist across 92 percent of the state with precipitation 3 to 6 inches below average through mid-April, the DNR reports. In Cass, Crow Wing, Wadena and northern Morrison counties, the deficit is approaching 6 inches.

Thursday's weather conditions allowed for a controlled burn on Camp Ripley without incident, although many residents in Brainerd, Baxter and Little Falls likely wondered about the smoky haze and smell in the early afternoon. The DNR approved Camp Ripley's permit to allow for the annual burns, necessary to prevent fires later when troops are training and firing shells.

Wednesday was a different story, however. With a red flag warning indicating weather conditions ripe for wildfires, the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center battled more than 35 grass- and wildfires across the state. Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order activating the National Guard due to inadequate aviation resources to suppress the fires.

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Wednesday afternoon into Thursday, crews battled a large wildfire in northwestern Minnesota a few miles east of Hayes Lake State Park. About 6,000 acres burned through dense pine forests and support came from National Guard helicopters and a large aircraft to assist with water scooping efforts, reported Larry Himanga, DNR wildfire prevention supervisor.

Since Sunday, area DNR forestry firefighters responded to 17 fires in Cass and Crow Wing counties. All of these fires except two were fewer than 2 acres in size. The largest fire burned 108 acres in Wabedo Township, just south of Longville, on Monday. Fourteen DNR forestry personnel and several aircraft were called in to fight the fire, which was located in the middle of a wooded, swampy area.

So far this year in Cass and Crow Wing, DNR forestry firefighters have responded to 63 fires that burned 452 acres. Karla Sandstrom of the Brainerd DNR field office said the fires have been all across the region, but share common denominators: high winds and "people burning when they shouldn't be with these conditions.

 

Joel Lemberg, fire program forester at the Backus DNR office, said the only burning currently allowed in the area is in legal campfires. A campfire is legal if it's contained in a fire resistant ring with 5 feet of cleared area around it free of combustible materials. It cannot be larger than 3-feet-by-3-feet and must be used for either heating, cooking or recreation.

"Burning leaves in a campfire ring is not a campfire," Lemberg said.

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"Burning leaves in a campfire ring is not a campfire," Joel Lemberg, fire program forester said.

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For those planning to have a campfire, Lemberg recommended having a hose on site and dousing the embers thoroughly when done.

"I'd pour water in and mix it in with a shovel, not just pour water on the ashes," Lemberg said.

Lemberg said soil moisture drought conditions are expected through June and unless there is significant moisture, fire danger remains high.

"If it greened up and we didn't get significant moisture, the plants and grass will go dormant again and it will still burn," he said.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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