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As snowpack disappears wildfire season creeps in to Brainerd area

The Brainerd area, as of April 27, was in a moderate fire risk. May is typically the month with the most wildfires in Minnesota.

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In this 2016 file photo, a wildfire broke out in a logged pine forest near Oylen west of Leader.
Brainerd Dispatch File Photo/ Steve Kohls

BRAINERD — Though the last vestiges of snow are slipping away and rainfall — and maybe even snow — is in the immediate forecast, Minnesota is approaching a new weather season.

No, not true spring or even summer, but wildfire season.

Even with recent precipitation, the fire danger for Cass, Crow Wing, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties was listed as moderate Thursday, April 27, by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

A moderate fire risk means fires start easily and spread at a moderate rate. That designation is not out of the ordinary for the end of April, said Karen Harrison, wildfire prevention specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. It’s getting drier across the state, she said, and most likely will continue doing so until green up.

“That snow covering is receding and I think, in the next week, a majority of that is likely to be gone and that fire danger, we’re expecting spring wildfire activity to increase with that snow receding,” Harrison said.

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“I know we have some rain forecast for this weekend, but those smaller fuels like grass and leaves can dry out within an hour after that precipitation ends. Don’t get caught off guard. Those changing weather patterns that produce rain or snow can help but it definitely doesn’t cut that fire danger completely.”

May is typically the most active month of wildfires. According to the Minnesota Incident Command System, an interagency group that coordinates active fire situations across the state, there were more than 250 reported wildfires in May of 2022. The next closest month was June, with just over 100 reported wildfires.

Graphic showing wildfires per month in 2022.
Contributed / Minnesota Incident Command System

With the snow gone, many Brainerd area residents may be thinking of cleaning up their yards, which often includes burning debris. At this time burning is allowed, but a permit is required and can be obtained online on the DNR’s website, through a local DNR forestry office or a fire warden.

Still, Harrison advised using caution when burning debris, no matter the size of the burn. While humans are the cause of 90% of all fires, Harrison said debris burns account for the highest percentage of wildfire starts. In most cases a wildfire starts because the legal debris burn was not properly extinguished.

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“You think it’s out, it might look out, but it’s actually still able to kind of restart under the right conditions,” Harrison said. “We always ask people to check conditions and monitor them throughout their burning, too, because those conditions can change throughout the day. Stay by your fire and make sure it’s completely out before you leave. Always good to have water and shovel nearby and drown out those coals, make sure it’s out cold.”

We’re in fire season. And the fire danger is slowly moving to the north.
Allissa Reynolds, wildfire prevention supervisor with the Minnesota DNR

Currently, the southwest portion of Minnesota is listed in a high fire danger, and a few weeks ago red flag warnings were issued for the area.

Though most of central Minnesota — except for Aitkin County, which had a low fire danger — is listed in a moderate fire danger, there have already been reported cases of wildfires near Garrison and in Wadena County.

In the Wadena County fire, which happened about 12:20 p.m. Tuesday northwest of Sebeka, the property owner had been burning a small brush pile two days earlier and light winds reignited it.

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The property owner had the fire mostly contained when firefighters arrived. No injuries or property damage was reported.

“The Sheriff’s Office would like to remind residents we are into the fire season and be careful with any burning they may be doing,” Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr said in a news release. “Pay attention to all local media for warnings or restrictions from the MN DNR. If you have questions about burning, ask your local Fire Warden.”

With May just a day away, the DNR has been increasing its monitoring of the fire danger, weather conditions and staff preparedness across the state.

Allissa Reynolds, wildfire prevention supervisor with the DNR, said firefighting aircraft such as the FireBoss and single engine air tankers are positioned in Brainerd, Bemidji and Princeton. There are also helicopters equipped with water buckets available.

“We’re in fire season,” Reynolds said. “And the fire danger is slowly moving to the north.”

MATT ERICKSON, Editor, may be reached at matt.erickson@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5857.

Matt Erickson joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 2000 as a reporter, covering crime and courts and the city of Brainerd. In 2012 he was promoted to night editor and in 2014 was promoted to editor of the newspaper.
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