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High temperatures, strong winds spark fire danger in state

Weather conditions with high wind gusts Tuesday created a high fire danger in the Northland and lakes area.

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The Pillager Fire Department Tuesday, May 25, responded to a barn fire, west of the Huntin Shack in Pillager. Photo by Klistie Shingledecker

Mother Nature appeared to be of two minds when it came to temperatures this week.

Though it’s spring, in the Brainerd lakes area the thermometer bounced between temperatures more associated with summer and fall.

This week started around 50 degrees Sunday, May 23, then featured two days of temperatures in the 80s before falling back down to the 50s Wednesday. The weather in-between, especially Tuesday, also created a higher fire danger.

The Minnesota Interagency Fire Center responded to 26 wildfires Tuesday in northern Minnesota, said Public Information Officer Leanne Langeberg. Each of the calls activated a response by the state fire agency, along with the Minnesota DNR. Most of the fires were small, with the exception of a fire near Big Falls, where 25 acres burned. The fire agency activated its aircraft support, as well as ground support and other local fire departments assisted at the fire.

Closer to home, the Brainerd Fire Department responded to two grass fires Tuesday afternoon. A grass fire in the ditch was reported at 5:36 p.m. near the intersection of Crow Wing County Highway 45 and Sleepy Hollow Road. The second grass fire was at 6:14 p.m. on the 3900 block of St. Mathias Road, which was near a structure. Firefighters extinguished both fires.

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“The fire danger over the last week has gone up and down with the dramatic changes with the weather,” Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes stated in an email. “As the temperatures have increased and the RH (relative humidity) goes down the fire danger increases. Likewise, when it cools and the (relative humidity) increases the fire danger decreases. The wind yesterday was crazy.”

The relative humidity reported at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport was at 90% just before 6 a.m. Tuesday, and decreased to 60% just before 10 a.m., according to the National Weather Service in Duluth. The relative humidity continued to drop after 10 a.m. each hour to 45% about 11 a.m.; 37% at noon, 27% at 1 p.m.; 19% at 2 p.m. and lingered around 20-30% until 8 p.m., then it gradually increased.

Temperatures and wind gusts also swung wildly, with an air temperature of 75 degrees with a 17 mph wind around 10 a.m.; to 84 degrees and a wind gust of 30 mph around lunchtime; and dropping back to the 70s around 8 p.m. The highest wind gust reported was 40 mph just before 7 p.m. Winds continued to gust between 20-30 mph through the overnight and died down just before 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Holmes said none of Brainerd’s fires Tuesday were large. He said they both appeared to be a result of down power lines and a problem with a transformer, both related to high winds.

Holmes reminded people weather conditions during Memorial Day weekend are still likely to be very dry and the fire danger could be high. Fires will start easily and spread quickly, he said.

Holmes encouraged people to keep recreational fires small and in a contained area, fire pit of some sort. People should have water readily available to extinguish the fire and to make sure the fire is completely out when they are not around it.

Burning permits are required for fires larger than 3-feet high and 3-feet in diameter.

“We want everyone to have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend,” Homes stated.

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The Pillager Fire Department also was busy responding to fires Tuesday, according to its social media postings. Firefighters were called at 2:02 p.m. to a report of grass fire near Cass County Highway 77 and Birch Forest Road. At 4:56 p.m. there was a report of a tree falling on a power line and starting a fire in the woods near Cragun’s Resort on Gull Lake.

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DNR Lead Brandon Sechser and Pillager Fire Chief Greg Ringler talk Tuesday, May 25, at the scene of a grass fire off Cass County Highway 77. Photo by Chris Korwes

Firefighters also responded to a barn fire at 6:38 p.m. on West Seventh Street in Pillager.

Firefighters responded to another grass fire on County Highway 77, near the same location as the first fire near the highway at 9:18 p.m. Pillager reported the fire had crawled up some trees.

Minnesota Interagency Fire Center facts

Northern Minnesota counties remain under open burning restrictions. Minnesota’s wildland fire management agencies report nearly 900 wildland fires have burned more than 32,000 acres since the beginning of March.

The majority of the wildfire activity has occurred in the driest area of the state, the northwest corner.

Langeberg said there are days when the state is in near critical fire weather conditions and human activity can really make a difference with fire prevention.

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“When we get those real sunny, windy, dry days, we need to try to be extra vigilant in the activities we do,” she said. “Anything that can cause a spark during those conditions can quickly take off as a wildfire.

“When we get closer to the holiday weekend and folks start to head outdoors and have campfires, they should have water readily available to put out the fire completely cold when they are done enjoying that fire.”

Langeberg said another thing to think about with fire prevention is sparks that may fly from a vehicle or all-terrain vehicle, as these sparks may cause a fire in dry conditions.

“When we do get into those real dry, windy, sunny conditions that's when wildfires can take off,” Langeberg said. “The biggest take home message is if you do spot a wildfire, it's always safest to call 911, and report that fire.”

Memorial Day weekend forecast for Brainerd area:

Thursday

  • Cloudy with a 50% chance of light rain. Highs in the lower 50s with an east wind 5 to 15 mph with gusts to around 20 mph. A 20% chance of rain showers at night with lows in the lower to mid 30s. East wind around 10 mph.

Friday

  • Sunny with a high in the lower 60s, with an east wind 5 to 10 mph. Mostly clear at night, with lows in the upper 30s.

Saturday

  • Mostly cloudy with a 40% chance of rain showers. Highs in the lower to mid 60s. Lows in the upper 40s.

Sunday

  • Mostly sunny with a chance of rain showers and a slight chance of thunderstorms. Highs near 70, with a 40% chance of precipitation.

Sunday night and Memorial Day

  • Partly cloudy with a 20% chance of rain showers. Lows in the upper 40s. Highs in the lower to mid 70s. Monday night low around 50.

Tuesday

  • Mostly sunny with a 20% chance of rain showers. Highs in the mid to upper 70s.

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at jennifer.kraus@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.

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DNR Lead Brandon Sechser and Pillager Fire Chief Greg Ringler talk Tuesday, May 25, at the scene of a grass fire off Cass County Highway 77. Photo by Chris Korwes

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