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Dry conditions, brisks winds fuel northwestern Minnesota wildfire

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A perfect storm of conditions resulted in a wildfire that has burned more than 24,000 acres in northwestern Minnesota.

"We've had a month of way below average precipitation, way above average temperatures and humidity lower than normal for fall," said Ron Sanow, spokesman for the Minnesota Intragency Fire Center, which deals with complicated fires.

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"Plus, we've already had a killing frost so everything gets drier every day. Put those factors together and you have very volatile conditions."

Also contributing was a brisk southerly wind, which had pushed the fire 12 miles to the north by 3 p.m. today, 25 hours after it started. The fire originated about 2 p.m. Wednesday 10 miles northwest of Greenbush. The flames were roughly three miles wide, meaning about 36 square miles were burned in the first 25 hours.

"There are a whole bunch of problems on these kind of days," Sanow said.

"It's difficult to fight it with ground forces because of the intense heat. And it's difficult to fight with aircraft because of the smoke and turbulence. It's difficult to see the fire and difficult to get the water accurately placed."

No injuries or burned structures have been reported. The burned area is mostly brush and grasslands, with very little cropland.

The firefight was in better shape this afternoon than Wednesday evening, Sanow said. But, "we're not close to calling it contained or controlled," he said. "There's still work to get areas on the perimeter under control. The next couple of days are important to get it into controlled or contained status."

Friday's forecast calls for even stronger winds. However, the temperature is expected to be cooler, which will aid efforts.

"We're hoping to direct the fire because rarely are you able to stop them in their tracks when they become plume-generated like they are," Sanow said. "Huge plumes create their own wind drafts."

The fire is named Juneberry 3, after the township where it originated. The cause is under investigation.

It has stretched into the Roseau River Management Area, which touches the Canadian border. Camping and access to pools 2 and 3 of the management area have been temporarily closed.

Because the red flag conditions are expected to continue Friday, the Department of Natural Resources office in Warroad has suspended burning permits in its five counties -- Marshall, Pennington, Roseau, Kittson and northern Beltrami. Red flag warnings are issued when there's a combination of wind, high temperatures and low humidity that create dangerous fire conditions.

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