Wildfires destroying homes, forcing evacuations in N. Minn., N. Wis.

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: May 15, 2013 - 9:21 PM

More than 15,000 acres have burned in wildfires in northern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin, with dozens of homes and other structures destroyed.

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A home was burning along Sutfin Road east of Comminsky Road in Highland Township, Wis., east of Solon Springs, Wis., late Tuesday, May 14, 2013.

Photo: Clint Austin, Associated Press - Ap

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More than 15,000 acres have burned in wildfires in northern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin, with dozens of homes and other structures destroyed, officials said Wednesday.

Tuesday’s strong winds, high temperatures, low humidity and dry vegetation contributed to the fires’ spread. Cooler conditions were in Wednesday’s forecast for the region, according to the Minnesota Incident Command System, with slightly calmer winds and higher humidity readings. Rain could arrive as soon as Thursday, with the weekend also in line for precipitation.

The biggest swath of the scorched land and building damage is in the Wisconsin forestland of Douglas and Bayfield counties, where firefighting crews worked through the night to surround what has become known as the Germann Road Fire, a blaze that has so far charred 8,700 acres, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said Wednesday morning.

In northwestern Minnesota, firefighters Wednesday battled a wildfire that burned a yet-to-be-determined number of homes and structures near Menahga.

Firefighters flying over the blaze dubbed as the Green Valley Fire measured it Wednesday morning at 7,100 acres, said command center spokeswoman Jean Goad. But workers have dug a line around the 6-mile-long fire to prevent it from spreading.

Goad said it had been difficult to measure the fire Tuesday because there was so much smoke overhead. Officials were urging people to stay out of the area Wednesday due to smoke.

The fire destroyed some homes and other buildings, but Goad did not have specific numbers.

“Winds are not quite as strong, humidities are not quite as low and temperatures are not quite as high,” Goad added, comparing Wednesday to Tuesday. “But it’s still a pretty snappy fire day.”

The Red Cross opened two shelters for residents evacuated from homes in Wadena and Hubbard counties. A fire northeast of Camp Ripley also threatened structures.

Nearly 100 residents of a nursing home and assisted-living center in Menagha returned unharmed Wednesday morning after spending the night on cots in a high school gym 9 miles south in Sebeka.

Administrator Clair Erickson noted that the precautionary evacuation came only hours after a Nursing Home week event in which the staff provided s’mores to residents as part of a “campout.”

“We told them we were celebrating Nursing Home Week with a slumber party,” he said.

Highway 71 was closed from Menahga to Park Rapids, about 10 miles north of Menahga. Additional road closures in the area are being contemplated.

As of 6 a.m., no portion of the fire could be classified as contained, the command center added.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed an emergency order Tuesday night to facilitate the fight against more than 25 wildfires that have broken out around the state in recent days, including two large fires that burned a combined 4,900 acres about 35 miles west and 45 miles northwest of Red Lake, but which had not destroyed any structures.

At Dayton’s direction, the Minnesota National Guard has deployed two helicopters and two large tactical trucks as part of the efforts to douse the Green Valley Fire.

Guard Army Maj. Bruce A. Kraemer said that 22 soldiers serving as “air crews, maintenance and fuel support teams are currently on state active duty assisting with wildfire suppression operations.”

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