Fire danger increasing across region
Flooding may not be an issue this spring, but another nasty "F" word is beginning to creep its way into the vocabulary.
Fire -- especially the danger of wildfire -- is becoming an increasing concern on both sides of the Red River. It's dry out there, and there's no significant relief in sight.
"We're probably three to four weeks ahead of where we'd typically be," said Dan Carroll, fire team leader for the Department of Natural Resources' area forestry office in Warroad, Minn.
Fire danger traditionally is highest in April and May, but dry conditions going into freeze-up, coupled with sparse snowfall and an early melt, have accelerated the situation this year, Carroll said.
"We have a lot of guys who have spent 25-30 years working here, and we've never seen anything like it," Carroll said. "We're prepared for a long duration at this point in time as fire season goes. We're prepared for a lot of starts."
"Starts," in forestry speak, refers to fires, and Carroll said staff from the Warroad office already have responded to about 20 fires this spring.
Statewide, at least 150 fires are burning across Minnesota, the largest to date being an 800-acre blaze near Aitkin and another near Backus covering about 400 acres, said Paul Peterson, an information officer for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center in Grand Rapids, Minn.
Information on the number of fires burning across North Dakota wasn't immediately available, but in northwest Minnesota, Carroll said the largest fire in the Warroad district -- so far -- covered 130 to 150 acres.
"We've been fortunate," he said this afternoon. "We've been prepared and ready and caught them before they got much bigger, but I'll wait before we're done with today before I say anything more.
"We've had trouble in the past on strong south-wind days."
That was exactly the scenario today, and the National Weather Service was forecasting south winds in excess of 30 mph across northwest Minnesota and northeast North Dakota.
Because of the dry conditions, the DNR said burning restrictions will take effect this coming Monday in most of the northern and central parts of the state. Spring restrictions limit open burning until vegetation greens up, which typically takes four to six weeks. That means the DNR will not issue permits for burning brush or yard waste, although campfires still are allowed.
Counties part of the upcoming restrictions include southern Beltrami County south of state Highway 1, Kittson, Mahnomen, Marshall, Pennington, Roseau west of state Highway 89 and parts of southeast Polk County.
Carroll said the DNR will issue permits on a day-to-day basis until Monday, depending on conditions. The DNR today wasn't issuing any permits, required anytime there's less than 3 inches of snow on the ground, Carroll said. That can vary by time of day, he said, depending on factors such as wind velocity.
"We encourage people to get a permit, and if they can get those small burns accomplished safely, we encourage them to do that," Carroll said. "Use extreme caution."
In North Dakota, the National Weather Service today listed fire danger as "very high" to "extreme" across the state, with a Red Flag Warning in effect in most central and western areas. Such warnings are issued when dry conditions and high winds create the potential for severe fires.
The fire danger in eastern North Dakota and the Devils Lake basin today was in the "very high" category, with "high" danger forecast today from Pembina to Grand Forks. No burn bans are yet in effect in the northeast part of the state.
On the Web
North Dakota: http://www.nd.gov/des/planning/fire-danger-awareness
Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.