At this time last year, the biggest outdoor fire allowed in Brainerd and Baxter was confined to the patio barbecue grill.
Throughout most of late April and early May of 2007 the wildfire danger was high, bolstered by little rain, temperatures in the 70s and strong winds. The conditions prompted the Brainerd Fire Department to ban open burning, including campfires.
This year, things have changed. While burning restrictions remain in place the fire danger in Crow Wing County has remained at low to moderate levels, thanks to an abundance of late April snowfall, early May rain and cooler than average temperatures.
"Actually, this season has been way below average based on the number of fires and severity of the fires, size and so forth, that we're seeing," said Mark Mortensen, DNR program forester in Brainerd.
The fire danger was listed as moderate Tuesday near the Brainerd Lakes Area Welcome Center on Highway 371. Brainerd Dispatch/Matt Erickson» Purchase reprints of this photo.
With the exception of the extreme northwest part of the state, that statement holds true for most of Minnesota, said Jean Bergerson, information officer at Minnesota Interagency Fire Center in Grand Rapids.
Bergerson said there's been three to five fires a day this spring and most have remained small.
"It could still dry out in the summer, but this spring has been slow at this point," Bergerson said. "It's kind of been nice to have a slow spring, compared to the last few years."
Despite the low to moderate fire danger, spring fire restrictions will remain in effect until sufficient green up. That's on track for the end of May, Mortensen said, as evidence by the green vegetation filling ditches and fields. Still, Mortensen said he'd like to see more green vegetation on forest floors before he declares the wildfire season coming to an end.
Although DNR restrictions affect the issuing of debris burning permits, forestry personnel may still give some variances for specific activities. Olin Phillips, DNR fire protection manager, said in a news release that each variance application is reviewed separately and permits are only granted for situations such as prescribed fires conducted by trained fire personnel, burning for approved agricultural practices and construction or economic hardship burning for which there is no feasible alternative.
Recreational fires are allowed in Brainerd, though there are restrictions. The fire must be 3 feet in diameter or smaller with no flames higher than 3 feet; located farther than 25 feet from any structure or combustible storage; and buckets, shovels or garden hoses must be readily available to extinguish the fire. Burning paper, refuse or flammable/combustible liquids is prohibited and the fire department must be notified at 828-2312 not less than two hours before igniting any recreational fire.
"It's all about safety and being nice to your neighbors," said Brainerd Fire Chief Fred Underhill.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
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