MENTOR, Minn. -- A large grass fire shut down portions of U.S. Highway 2 near Mentor, Minn., on Monday, March 29, accentuating concern of fire danger in both Minnesota and North Dakota amid dry conditions and high winds.
As of Monday afternoon, the affected area included a stretch of Highway 2 from Minnesota Highway 32 to Polk County Highway 10. The area is approximately three miles west of Mentor, or approximately 20 miles east of Crookston.
Officers on Monday directed traffic away from the area, Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow said, due to low visibility in the area as the grass fire approached the highway. The highway stretch was closed as of 3:30 p.m. as fire crews worked on the blaze, but reopened later.
Local fire departments could not be reached while the fire was active Monday afternoon, and officers from the Polk County Sheriff's Office were unavailable to comment. Grabow said he was unsure of the fire's origin.
A farm owned by Tom Bradford had 200 bales of hay still burning from the fire well into the night. Bradford, who is a game warden, returned to the farm to help firefighters protect his property, even helping to operate the hose for a time.
"The heat was incredible," Bradford said. "Then one of the firefighters said, 'Hey, get out of there. You're going to be overwhelmed.'"
Bradford lost bales of hay and some machinery, but his buildings were saved, along with his 50 head of cattle.
Firefighters working both on the ground and in the air were battling the 500-acre fire, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center in Grand Rapids, Minn., said.
As of 3:15 p.m. Monday, seven aircraft were responding to the blaze, said Leanne Langeberg, public information officer with the fire center. The number of personnel and agencies battling the grass fire on the ground wasn’t immediately available, Langeberg said.
“Right now, I don’t have a lot of detail other than it’s about 500 acres of grass,” she said. “It’s a high fire danger day with Red Flag Warnings, so firefighters are responding quickly and using aircraft that is available.”
The grass fire near Mentor was the latest in a busy day for firefighting crews in northwest Minnesota. Earlier, Langeberg said, the aircraft were battling a grass fire northeast of Hayes Lake State Park in Roseau County that grew from 10 acres to 60 acres.
Travelers were advised to monitor road conditions on the state's 511 website at 511mn.org.
It was at least the second prairie fire in as many days in the Greater Grand Forks region after crews on Sunday battled a fire near Grand Forks International Airport. Monday also brought burn bans throughout the region, as dry conditions continued and as wind speeds picked up.
In Grand Forks County, a temporary burn ban was announced. The ban, which includes the city of Grand Forks and is effective immediately, extends to recreational fires, and people burning items for the purposes of disposing of them. Under the ban, trees, grass leaves and ditches may not be burned, and people must make sure to dispose of cigarette butts and other smoking devices in designated collection sites.
The state fire burn ban and restrictions map can be located at www.ndresponse.gov/burn-ban-restrictions-fire-danger-maps.
The National Weather Service in Grand Forks on Monday issued a Red Flag Warning for every eastern county in North Dakota along the Red River Valley. The warning is in effect until 1 a.m. on Tuesday. Red Flag Warnings are issued when there are critical weather conditions, including high winds and low humidity, that can lead to “extreme fire behavior.” Under the weather conditions, any fire could easily spread and become difficult to control. The same warning is in effect for much of Minnesota.