Temperatures may be mild, but the fire danger Tuesday increased to very high throughout the Brainerd area.
Conditions Tuesday were similar to Sunday, when a "red flag warning" was issued in the area because of lack of moisture, low humidity and strong winds. Sunday's conditions pushed the area fire danger to extreme.
The biggest difference between the two days was temperatures. On Sunday, it reached an above-average 71 degrees. On Tuesday, it reached a seasonable 64 degrees.
"It's cooler but we've still got the wind and the moisture is drying out again," Brainerd Fire Chief Fred Underhill said. "It's still not greened up enough yet."
On Tuesday, area firefighters responded to two wildfires.
Two DNR firefighters walked through a dry swamp that burned in Tuesday's grass fire in Baxter.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
At 2:42 p.m. firefighters from Brainerd, the DNR, Nisswa and Pillager responded to a fire that burned five acres of swamp and woods along Woida Road in Baxter. An electrical surge was suspected as the cause of the fire, Underhill said. No structures were damaged.
At 3:30 p.m., firefighters from Nisswa and the DNR responded to a wildfire off the Paul Bunyan Trail near Mollie Lake in Merrifield that burned 1.5 acres.
The cause of the Merrifield fire was probably arson, said Mark Mortensen, program forester with the DNR's Brainerd office.
"There's no evidence of any type of equipment use along there and we've had a couple of fires set there over the years. Not frequently, but it seems like every couple years," Mortensen said. "They are always somewhere away from the road where it's not visible."
Though no structures were damaged, several trees were burned, Mortensen said.
Denise Blood waited Tuesday near her Lynwood Drive home in Baxter. Blood said a huge wind gust quickly moved the flames toward her home, where she operates a day care. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
A problem in both the Baxter and Merrifield fires was wind. On Tuesday, wind gusts as high as 28 mph were recorded at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport.
Warm, dry conditions are predicted to continue throughout the week and winds are expected to pick up Thursday through Sunday, the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center reported. Firefighters are preparing for another weekend of very high to extreme fire danger.
"Monday's rainfall did not affect the northern two-thirds of Minnesota," Doug Miedtke, fire behavior analyst for the Interagency Fire Center, said in a news release. "The northern third of Minnesota is still in extended drought conditions."
Temperatures are expected to remain in the upper 60s and low 70s through Friday, but no rain is in the immediate forecast. Wind gusts are forecasted to be about 25 mph through Friday.
A helicopter leased to the DNR dropped a bucket of water Tuesday on a brush fire in Baxter. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
The next chance for rain in the forecast is Saturday, the National Weather Service in Duluth reported. The possibility of rain is in the forecast through Tuesday.
"The forecast is pretty much the same day after day, all way to the weekend, and we won't see a change in the intensity of anything that burns," Mortensen said. "It's just going to get drier. The grass may be greener, but everything else not growing will get drier."
More photos of Tuesday's wildfire in Baxter are available at www.brainerddispatch.com.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
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