With the snow all but gone and the danger of wildfires increasing, the DNR announced Monday burning restrictions will be in place at the end of the week.
The burning restrictions begin at 8 a.m. Friday for the following area counties — Cass south of the border of the Chippewa National Forest, Crow Wing, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties. The danger for wildfires is greatest in grassy areas, where fine fuels can ignite easily and spread quickly.
“I was out a little bit (Monday) and the snow is just melting, it’s pretty well gone,” said Chris Kobberdahl, DNR forestry technician in the Brainerd field office. “It doesn’t take long to get the grass to burn.”
Once restrictions are in place special burning permits will be written for extenuating circumstances only, such as time-sensitive construction projects and prescribed burning conducted by professional firefighters. The DNR instead encourages the use of composting, recycling and chipping as alternatives to burning.
While debris burning will be curtailed, the use of campfires smaller than 3 feet in diameter and 3 feet in height will continue to be allowed. Permits are not required for this type of fire if it meets the above conditions and is monitored until the coals are dead out.
The campfire allowance does not include Brainerd, however. Debris burning is always prohibited in Brainerd and Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Stunek last week placed a ban on recreational fires until conditions improve.
In all, 19 central Minnesota counties will have burning restrictions in place Friday. The DNR will add counties as the snow cover recedes northward. For those who plan to burn in counties that still allow open burning with a permit, the window of opportunity will be brief.
Most of Minnesota will be under restrictions soon, DNR Fire Prevention Specialist Larry Himanga said in a news release. Doug Miedtke, fire management specialist with the DNR and Minnesota Interagency Fire Center in Grand Rapids, advised people to burn with extreme caution before the restrictions are in effect because grass fire will still spread quickly.
Miedtke said this year’s wildfire season has been slow to start compared to 2010, when lack of precipitation in March resulted in fires in mid-March.
“It’s moving slow but we’re getting there,” Miedtke said. “Last year it came really early and when it started it was like gangbusters.”
Kobberdahl said fire probably wouldn’t spread into the woods yet. He said it would take a few more days like Monday — a high temperature in the 60s and breezy — to dry out wood and in many places grass is still wet and matted from the heavy snow that blanketed the area this past winter.
Also helping, Kobberdahl said, is rain — about .30 of an inch this past weekend and possibly more this coming weekend, along with colder temperatures.
“We’re not looking for real bad fire season but we never know,” Kobberdahl said. “If it doesn’t rain that could change in a hurry.”
Miedtke said a wildfire-fighting helicopter will soon be stationed in Brainerd, but the CL-215s air tankers won’t be coming to the tanker base at Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport until the ice is off area lakes, allowing the planes to scoop water. If needed, a single-engine airplane that can load and drop fire retardant material could be stationed at the airport.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.