Firefighters were still battling one large wildfire this morning and keeping a watch over several small extinguished ones that ignited Monday as officials warned that strong winds, high temperatures, low humidity and dry vegetation would continue to conspire for dangerous fire conditions again today.
Tuesday morning, firefighters were battling an estimated 400-acre blaze east of Red Lake in northern Minnesota, said Jean Goad, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center.
They worked Monday to douse small fires near Gonvick, Itasca State Park and Lac la Croix in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Goad said. A blaze of less than one-tenth of an acre had been extinguished near Babbitt. None of those fires were posing major concerns Tuesday morning, Goad said.
In the metro area, it took firefighters more than an hour to contain a 5 1/2-acre afternoon fire in the woods and grasslands of southern Maplewood on Monday, near the intersection of Interstate 494 and Carver Avenue.
"The wind blew so fast that it's really going to be difficult to say what caused it," Maplewood Fire Chief Steve Lukin said. "A lot of trees have been burned. ... It jumped in a lot of spots."
The National Weather Service had issued red-flag warnings for fire potential in western, southern and central Minnesota, including the Twin Cities.
The warnings, expected to be lifted in most of Minnesota tonight, are part of a larger warning that stretched Monday from the Wisconsin border to Washington and Oregon and into parts of northern Kansas. A red-flag warning means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring or will be shortly.
Monday's high temperature reached 83 degrees in Minneapolis and 91 in Madison, Minn., the Weather Service said. Forecasters expected temperatures to reach into the upper 80s or middle 90s Tuesday, with strong winds and relative humidity near 20 percent once again.
"Things could spread quickly if something does start," Goad said.
Fire danger conditions are expected to improve as a cold front moves into western Minnesota around midday today and brings the possibility of rain to the southern half of the state starting Wednesday morning, said Weather Service meteorologist Shawn DeVinny.
On Monday, firefighters in Brainerd got an illustration of just how dangerous a spark or ember could be after smokers put out their cigarettes on wood chips outside the Brainerd Judicial Center.
"Somebody called in that the wood chips were on fire," Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Stunek said. "We've never seen that one before."
Stunek, whose department covers 300 square miles, much of it wooded, said firefighters there had double-checked equipment they use to fight fires in rural areas. "We're in that area up here where things get going very quickly," he said.
A call for common sense
In the metro area, Bloomington Fire Chief Ulysses Seal said Monday that police officers were keeping a lookout for recreational fires so they could warn residents of the dangers. "We just pay a little more attention to what's going on, and then we ask for help quicker on a day like today and tomorrow than we would normally," Seal said. "Generally, we hope that common sense prevails. And for folks who apparently aren't aware of the conditions, we try to enlighten them."
Goad said the Department of Natural Resources will not issue burning permits to burn debris in the danger zones today. "We're asking people to be very careful when they're out there if they're recreating, operating equipment like grinders or welders. ... Even mowing the lawn, if you hit a rock and get a spark there's a possibility it could start a fire," Goad said.
Small campfires will still be allowed, Goad said. The DNR asks people to keep them contained to 3 feet high by 3 feet wide, keep an area cleared around them and have water available nearby, Goad said. They should be extinguished so they are cold to the touch, she added.
Campfires in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area will be allowed only from 7 p.m. to midnight, she said.
Some municipalities may issue more stringent burning restrictions. For a map of county-by-county restrictions, go to www.dnr.state.mn.us/forestry/fire/firerating_restrictions.html.
Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102