NISSWA-Weather turned fast in the Brainerd lakes area, going from snowstorm season to fire season.
Snow cover took a beating over the weekend with temperatures in the upper 50s to lower 60s. Monday's high reached 70 degrees-resulting in perfect conditions for fires. And fire season indeed arrived, as flames and smoke moved rapidly through a row of pine trees and grasses Monday afternoon along Crow Wing County Highway 4, burning close to 20 acres in Lake Edward Township, east of Nisswa.
The wildfire was reported at 2:46 p.m. Monday and firefighters from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Nisswa, Mission, Pequot Lakes and Crosslake fire departments worked together to extinguish the fire. It was contained shortly after firefighters' arrival. Authorities closed down a portion of County Highway 4 from Resort Road and County Road 118 to give firefighters space to work as the fire was close to the highway.
Bill Salo, a forestry technician for the DNR in Brainerd, said the cause of the fire remains under investigation as the DNR and firefighters continued to work on scene.
"Spring is here and conditions are dry and even though we had snow cover here a week ago, the fire conditions are pretty volatile and people need to be careful," Salo said. "Make sure you get your burning permits before you go and burn and be careful, there are no burning restrictions right now. People are required to have a burning permit."
Salo said the fire ran "fairly good," as the grasses and pine trees are dry.
"It burned a lot of the pines out here today," Salo said. "We were able to contain it pretty quickly. We had easy access to get here and had a lot of resources."
The fire burned about 15-20 acres on the 25000 block of County Highway 4, which included some grasses and debris on an agricultural property. The property contained animals, such as horses, ducks, turkeys, chickens and domestic pets. The homeowner said all the animals were OK, but she declined to further comment on the fire.
Capt. Scott Goddard of the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office said warmer temperatures hit the county hard in the past couple of days, melting the snow and making Monday's fire a perfect example of how a fire can get out of hand.
"The appearance of the frost seems to be going out so it's like a tinderbox," Goddard said. "Any of the grass areas ... even if there is just a little wind, will be susceptible to fires moving very rapidly, especially during the daytime hours. Just like any spring, don't burn and follow the DNR guidelines that will come out in the next couple of days. ... Any fire can get away and out of control (in these conditions)."
Pamela Ubl, her husband and their dog Roscoe have lived together in a home in Nisswa along County Highway 4 for the past four years. Ubl was outside walking Roscoe as fire trucks and first responders blew by her as she stood by a mailbox near Resort Road North, which leads to the Wildwoods RV Park and Resort.
"Why are there more trucks coming? Oh, my God! Are the horses OK?" Ubl wondered as she pointed to a property where horses were boarded and could be seen.
"I want to know what's going on. I kept trying to ask people, 'Are the horses OK?' and they're like, 'We can't tell you that,' so it's very concerning."
The roar of the trucks was deafening and the smell of acrid smoke hung in the air even as the firefighters from multiple departments were packing up their gear to leave once the fire died out.
"I was coming back from town, and I saw the black smoke, and I know someone that has a horse boarding at that place, so I'm concerned. I thought it would be over by now, but it doesn't look like it, so I'm going to get my dog home," Ubl said.
"I wasn't worried until I called my husband and he's like, 'Hopefully it isn't going to be pushing our way,' and I didn't even think of that because I was thinking of the horses."
The fire danger Monday in Crow Wing County was listed as high, with fires expected to start easily and spread at a fast rate. Burning permits are currently required throughout the state, according to the Minnesota DNR.
Christi Powers, public information officer with Minnesota Interagency Fire Center in Grand Rapids, said grass/wildfire season has started in many places in Minnesota. She said with the nicer weather, people are busy cleaning up their yards and may think a little pile of debris is OK to burn, but a fire can quickly spread in the dry conditions.
Powers advises people to check out the DNR website at www.dnr.state.mn.us often to check on the fire danger status and burning restrictions. The MIFC serves as a hub for mobilization of wildfires and emergency resources.
There were three fires in the Bemidji area over the weekend, burning 5 acres or less. One of the fires caused heavy damage to a garage. Red Lake also had a "fairly good" grass fire.
Powers said something to also think about with fire safety are sky lanterns. These lanterns are illegal in Minnesota and highly flammable/volatile. Powers said this past weekend, the fire chief in International Falls spotted one on his roof that wasn't supposed to be there.
Prescribed burns are planned across the state, including Camp Ripley.
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