ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

July 12 storm effects increase wildfire risk, DNR says

The windstorm north of Brainerd on July 12 not only created unpleasant conditions for recreationists and a mess for homeowners, but now poses a wildfire risk as the downed branches, limbs and trees dry out.

Downed trees are gathered up and burned on Pine Beach Peninsula right after the July 12 supercell storm. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)
Downed trees are gathered up and burned on Pine Beach Peninsula right after the July 12 supercell storm. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)

The windstorm north of Brainerd on July 12 not only created unpleasant conditions for recreationists and a mess for homeowners, but now poses a wildfire risk as the downed branches, limbs and trees dry out.

As homeowners and landowners in the blowdown area clean up their yards and woods, many will want to get a burning permit from the Department of Natural Resources to burn their woody debris. Homeowners who decide to burn should be watching weather conditions and forecasts, and making sure their fire is out cold. The number one cause of wildfire in Minnesota is escaped debris burning fires.

As temperatures cool in the fall and killing frost occurs overnight, grass and brush become dormant and dry out, which elevates the risk that burn piles will spread or flying embers will ignite nearby grass and brush. Landowners who burn can reduce the risk of a burn pile spreading by keeping the fire small, clearing space around the fire, and not burning during windy or low humidity conditions.

Composting light debris like grass and leaves, chipping heavier woody debris, or hauling away all vegetative material to local disposal sites are good alternatives.

Preventing wildfires around the home is important at any time. The DNR's Firewise program identifies four factors homeowners can control that affect whether a home will survive a wildfire-access, site, structure and burning practices.

ADVERTISEMENT

Access
Access affects how easily firefighters and emergency vehicles can find and access a home. Without a good access and escape route, firefighters are trained not to endanger themselves to save a home.

The address must be clearly visible from the road to ensure responding fire departments can find the home. Homes with driveways less than 150 feet long can be accessed from the street. They should be at least 12 feet wide and clear of branches 14 feet up. Longer driveways must accommodate fire-fighting vehicles. They must be 20 feet wide, have a firm, all-weather surface and a vehicle turnaround near the house. Bridges or culverts should support the weight of a fire truck.

Site
In rural areas when multiple homes are at risk, a home may need to stand without firefighter protection. How a home is situated on the lot will determine whether it can survive alone or firefighters can defend it. The critical area, called the home defensible zone, is the 30 feet directly surrounding a home, including any outbuildings.

Inside the home defensible zone, anything flammable should be removed or modified. If the trees are predominantly conifers, a 10-foot minimum space should be maintained between tree crowns (branches of adjacent trees) and tree crown and home. This prevents fire from jumping tree to tree and tree to home.

The vertical arrangement of the vegetation is also important. Look for continuous fuel (grass, leaves, branches), called ladder fuel, which provides a means for fire to climb from the ground to tree crown. These fuels are eliminated by mowing tall grass, trimming shrubs and pruning the lower tree branches up 6 to 10 feet, or one-third of the tree height. Keeping the lawn green and mowed short will prevent it from carrying fire.

Flammables next to buildings include firewood piles and leaf and needle fall that accumulate around foundations and under decks. Firewood piles should be moved outside the home defensible zone by March. Use rock and stone landscaping materials next to buildings, and clean the leaves out of the rocks each spring.

Remove old cars, lumber piles and other debris from the defensible zone. Make sure fences have easily accessible gates and are free of debris and trees.

Reducing fuels in the wooded area 100 feet beyond the home will reduce the intensity of an approaching wildfire. Trees may need thinning or removal to increase their spacing, especially conifers that are at high densities. Pruning the remaining trees up 6 to 10 feet or one-third of the tree height and reducing underbrush will help reduce the fuels and lessen the wildfire intensity.

ADVERTISEMENT

Structure
Home modifications that reduce wildfire risk include re-siding with brick, stone, stucco or steel, replacing shake roofing with class A shingles or steel, and enclosing foundations, decks and overhangs with steel, masonry or flame-resistant sheeting. Other modifications include spark arrestors on chimneys, enclosing soffits with a solid barrier and screening vents with a fine mesh to prevent access from flying embers.

Burning Practices
Recreational fires should be located in a fire-safe pit or container and completely extinguished before left unattended. Before lighting any outdoor fire, check for local fire restrictions and permit requirements. Also be aware of weather conditions and forecast. High winds, high temperatures and low humidity are contributing factors to escaped fires.

The Firewise program is funded in part by the USDA Forest Service ( www.firewise.org ). The goal of the Firewise program is to reduce losses from wildfire by assisting homeowners through their communities. Communities can qualify for funding assistance by identifying high fire risk areas, evaluating the hazards that cause the risk, and mitigating those hazards through planning, fuels reduction and education.

Visit mndnr.gov/firewise or contact your local forestry office mndnr.gov/areas/forestry for more information.

Downed trees litter the landscape on Pine Beach Peninsula right after the July 12 supercell storm. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)
Downed trees litter the landscape on Pine Beach Peninsula right after the July 12 supercell storm. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)

Related Topics: FIRES
What To Read Next
Inmates in-custody in the Todd County jail in Long Prairie, Minnesota
Inmates in-custody in the Wadena County jail in Wadena, Minnesota
Inmates in-custody in the Aitkin County jail in Aitkin, Minnesota
Inmates in-custody in the Beltrami County jail in Bemidji, Minnesota