Minnesota ramps up wildfire restrictions
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources added 24 counties to its list of places with burning restrictions.
BRAINERD — With a large swath of central Minnesota added to the state's fire restrictions areas Thursday, May 5, agencies from around the state prepared for a potential escalation of spring wildfire season.
On Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources added 24 counties, including Cass, Crow Wing, Hubbard and Wadena, to the list of counties with burning restrictions. Burning restrictions were earlier put into effect for Mille Lacs, Morrison and Todd counties.
“We have seen a rise in wildfire activity,” said Leanne Langeberg, public information officer for the Minnesota Incident Command System , an interagency group that coordinates active fire situations across the state. “Most of Minnesota fell under red flag warnings on both Monday and Tuesday. With those red flag warnings, we're starting to see conditions really start to move up the scale, as far as the availability of dry grasses, brushes and shrubs leftover from last winter.”
Red flag warnings mean critical fire conditions are either occurring or soon will.
Langeberg said there have been a few fires around the state so far this season requiring aircraft support, bringing in water and fire retardant.
From May 1 and within 30 miles of Brainerd, there were about eight reported wildfires of around 10 acres or less burned. The state had around 70 reported wildfires since May 1. With nine out of 10 wildfires being caused by people, Langeberg said.
Spring is an especially active time for wildfires in Minnesota. Spring wildfire season begins with the receding of the snow and exposing of dead and dry brush, which acts as fuel for a potential fire.
“When we have the snow cover finally melt away, we've got a period where we're waiting for things to green up, and it's during that time when we have just a lot of dry vegetation,” Langeberg said.
The DNR reported when a fire rekindles or escapes, the person who set it is liable for any damage caused, as well as for wildfire suppression costs.
The largest wildfire in the state so far this year was on the Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge, which had around 1,725 acres burned since April 29 and is around 80% contained as of May 4, Langeberg said.
Cass County Sheriff Bryan Welk said people need to be especially vigilant this time of year and be mindful of anything that can cause sparks or hot embers — even throwing cigarette butts out of car windows.
Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes said his department is prepared for the high-risk seasons of spring and fall fire seasons, knowing many people in the area are burning leaves and cleaning up their yards.
“It's good if you are doing cleanup around your house to consider cleaning up under your deck and cleaning out your gutters just to make your house or your cabin a little bit more resilient to wildfires,” Holmes said.
Welk said his department always gears up for wildfire season, especially with 911 dispatchers stepping up during the season and relaying information to the respective firefighting agencies.
If someone is looking to burn small amounts of dry leaves, plant clippings, brush, and clean untreated-unpainted wood, Holmes said a burn permit can be purchased from the DNR website . However, the DNR will not issue permits for the open burning of brush or yard waste in these counties until restrictions are lifted.
If someone is burning something, Holmes said they should take extra precaution when verifying a fire is out.
“They need to be out and cool,” Holmes said. “A lot of times when you're burning, you know, the soil and the roots get hot. They burn undetected until maybe the next day when the wind picks up again. And then you have a fire.”
Burning restrictions will be adjusted as conditions change. For more information and daily updates on current fire risk and open burning restrictions, visit the statewide fire danger and burning restrictions page of the DNR website .
TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter @timmy2thyme , call 218-855-5859 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .