Wildfire threat intensifying | BrainerdDispatch.com | Brainerd, Minnesota

Wildfire threat intensifying

Labor Day campers urged to use caution with campfires

Posted: August 29, 2012 - 10:21pm

Hot, dry and breezy conditions are working to elevate the wildfire danger in Minnesota.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is cautioning residents and visitors about the intensifying wildfire threat in Minnesota. Fire danger is extreme in far northwestern Minnesota and very high or high in much of northern Minnesota. A fire weather watch is in effect for north Central Minnesota as of Thursday, Aug. 30.

The areas impacted by high fire danger are likely to expand into much of central and southern Minnesota this week with hot, dry, windy weather forecasted, the DNR reported.

A fire weather watch is also in effect for southern Minnesota as of Thursday, with the possibility of going to a Red Flag Warning.

Because of the current high fire danger, the DNR is expanding available support resources, including firefighting aircraft and heavy equipment.

The DNR Forestry Division is restricting burning permits in dry areas of the state this week. Fire conditions change quickly. For more information and maps, and to check fire conditions, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/forestry/fire/firerating_restrictions.html.

After 13 months of drought in northwestern Minnesota, wildfire conditions are challenging, according to DNR officials.

And there isn’t much in the forecast to indicate a relief to the dry conditions. The National Weather Service in Duluth reported low humidity and windy conditions are combining to create critical fire weather conditions.

The seven-day forecast includes a slight chance of thunderstorms Thursday in the northeast part of the state, west of Gull Lake to McGrath. In the Brainerd lakes area, Thursday has a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms before 1 p.m. with a high of 88 degrees.

Temperatures are expected to climb 90 to 95 degrees Thursday in parts of the state. The forecast for the Brainerd lakes area calls for highs in the mid-80s beneath sunny skies throughout the holiday weekend.

The greatest chance for showers or thunderstorms, which remains just a slight possibility, arrives on Sunday and continues on Labor Day and into the coming week.

Fire managers have reported intense fire behavior, including willow brush torching with 30-foot flames and crown fires burning through the tops of aspen stands. Fires are spreading quickly through both green and cured grasses. Peat in-ground deposits and organic soils are igniting quickly and burning deep into the ground, an indication of extremely dry conditions.

The Juneberry Road Fire that began Aug. 21 in northwestern Minnesota grew quickly to 700 acres despite strong suppression efforts. It also ignited about 150 acres of peat.

Peat fires are difficult and expensive to control, requiring extensive and repeated efforts by firefighters, along with the use of large volumes of water and heavy equipment. Yet peat fires can’t be left burning due to the high current potential that they could start new surface wildfires.

As people head to the lakes and woods for Labor Day weekend, fire managers are urging them to use caution by keeping campfires small — no more than three feet high by three feet across.

People are advised to clear vegetation from around campfires, keep water available, attend the fire at all times and make certain the fire is cold to the touch before leaving. Failure to fully extinguish campfires, a common cause of wildfires, can result in the responsible individuals paying for thousands of dollars in suppression costs.