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Wildfires up this year; Experts encourage fire safety as danger is high

Fire danger is upon us and with Wildfire Prevention Week beginning Sunday--it is a perfect time to remind residents to be on alert and careful with their fire activities.

A Blackhawk drops water on a fire during a controlled burn April 8 at Camp Ripley.Photo by Christi Powers/Minnesota Interagency Fire Center
A Blackhawk drops water on a fire during a controlled burn April 8 at Camp Ripley. Photo by Christi Powers/Minnesota Interagency Fire Center
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Fire danger is upon us and with Wildfire Prevention Week beginning Sunday-it is a perfect time to remind residents to be on alert and careful with their fire activities.

Close to 400 wildfires have already ignited this spring in Minnesota-including several in the Brainerd lakes area that burned just over 1,000 acres, reported the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center. The fire center is part of the Minnesota Incident Command System, which is an interagency group with state and federal partners that cooperate in management of wildfire and all risk incidents.

Of the fires in the state, several started from escaped debris burns when residents tried to dispose of yard waste by burning it. Another was caused by a cigarette butt that may have been tossed out of a car window.

Nationwide wildfires are up 46 percent this year, compared to last year at this time, Christi Powers, public information officer with Minnesota Interagency Fire Center in Grand Rapids, said Thursday at a news teleconference the organization hosted. She said last year there were 9,218 wildfires and, as of Wednesday, 13,458 fires were reported by the Insurance Information Institute.

During the teleconference, fire experts discussed fire suppression, aviation and prevention.

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"April and May is when we experience the highest number of wildfires throughout the state of Minnesota," said Paul Lundgren, DNR wildfire state section manager. "We want to remind people to be careful when they are burning, as debris burning is the No. 1 cause of wildfires. We also want to remind folks to not only be careful with fire, but if an incident does occur, to be careful with their approach. Their safety is the most important and the safety of others out there so if they see an incident happening they should call 911 and let our agencies, the fire departments, the Minnesota DNR and our state and federal agencies respond and put out the fire."

Ron Stoffel, DNR wildfire suppression supervisor, said this is the real busy time for wildfires and the number of prescribed burns. Stoffel said out of the over 400 fires this season, "most have been relatively small and some of the larger ones have gotten to be 20-55 acre range."

Stoffel said there have been about 14-25 wildfires a day in the state.

Stoffel said fire suppression crews are ready and prepared for this season's fire danger. A majority of the fires are caused by humans and occur around roads and residential homes. Fires are dangerous and fire authorities encourage people to use caution if they are near a wildfire, as fatalities and injuries may occur. Stoffel said last year a Wisconsin woman was killed as she was driving through a smoke-filled road.

The Minnesota Interagency Fire Center reports the leading cause of wildfires is escaped fire that can easily occur during spring cleanup as residents dispose of dried grass, fallen leaves or logs and yard waste. Fires can quickly spread especially on warm and windy days.

A recent episode went from yard work, to a lawn mower that caught fire, to severe burns for a

well-meaning resident who attempted to put out the fire alone.

William Glesener, Minnesota Interagency Fire Center fire behavior analyst, said the fire danger will be high for the next 10 days to three weeks until the flowers and grass green up. Glesener said precipitation across the state is below average making the fire risk more severe. The northern one-third of the state remains dry as rain chances keep missing most of the region. He said the southern two-thirds of the state has received a tenth to more than an inch of rain in some areas in the past seven days. The north central part of the state is the driest, followed by the west central part of the state.

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Glesener also explained the term, "spring dip," which is when there is a dip in foliar moisture content in conifer needles. He said if there is not enough moisture in the needles they can become "very flammable."

"Right now with the earlier spring I am anticipating an earlier spring dip and that live foliar content will last a little longer and if that spring dip occurs when we also have brown grasses, that will be a 1-2 punch. Grassfires can hit ... fuels and spread pretty quickly and move into the crowns (treetops) and that is when we start having catastrophic fires."

Darren Neuman, DNR wildfire aviation supervisor, said they have aircraft and helicopters to help ground crews fight wildfires across the state. They have aircraft used year-round and then some are reserved for spring and fall fire seasons, where the state contracts with private vendors. Neuman said they have seven fixed-wing aircraft, which includes the Fire Bosses, which are the single-engine air tankers that scoop water, and 11 helicopters in the state. The active tanker base stations are in Brainerd, Bemidji and Princeton. And then, when fire season picks up, aircraft and helicopters are placed in Warroad, Hibbing, Hill City, Roseau, Cloquet and Ely.

With the warm temperatures and little to no snow and dry vegetation, the DNR has burning restrictions in effect. As conditions for wildfires increase, exposed dead grass and brush can light easily and burn quickly, especially in windy conditions.

During spring restrictions, the state will not give out burning permits for burning brush or yard waste. Residents are encouraged to use alternatives to burning such as composting or hauling brush to a collection site.

Burning restrictions do not apply to campfires, they are still allowed. Clear an area around the campfire, watch it continuously and make sure it is out cold to the touch before leaving, the DNR states.

Burning restrictions are in effect for the following counties: Aitkin, Anoka, Becker, Beltrami, Benton, Carlton, Cass, Chisago, Clay, Clearwater, Crow Wing, Dakota, Douglas, Grant, Hennepin, Hubbard, Isanti, Itasca, Kanabec, Kittson, Koochiching, Mahnomen, Marshall, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Norman, Otter Tail, Pennington, Pine, Polk East, Pope, Ramsey, Roseau, Scott, Sherburne, Stearns, Stevens, St. Louis South, Todd, Traverse, Wadena, Washington, Wilkin and Wright.

Go to www.dnr.state.mn.us/forestry/fire/index.html for more wildfire information.

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Minnesota DNR fire crew work on a controlled burn April 8 at Camp Ripley.Photo by Christi Powers/Minnesota Interagency Fire Center
Minnesota DNR fire crew work on a controlled burn April 8 at Camp Ripley. Photo by Christi Powers/Minnesota Interagency Fire Center

Related Topics: FIRES
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