Lack of snowfall means fire alerts around Minnesota

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA
  • Star Tribune
  • December 28, 2011 - 9:13 AM

A brown Christmas week can have severe consequences, as firefighters in Gully, Minn., can attest.

A forest fire on Monday north of the Polk County town is under control, but it burned 750 acres of woods near the Hangaard State Wildlife Management Area.

The state remains under a low fire danger rating as a whole, but because of the dry conditions, the Department of Natural Resources is requiring permits to burn vegetation or debris. Campfires generally are exempt but often require city permits.

"Usually this time of year, there's snow and so people don't think of fire danger in the way they do in the fall and spring," said Jean Goad, information officer for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center. It takes about 3 inches of snow to protect dry vegetation from fire danger.

Cook County, in northeastern Minnesota, is not under the requirement, because of its snow cover.

Plenty of fuel for fires

This year, months of little precipitation have combined with exposed, freeze-dried leaves and typically high winds to create the potential for blazes that could spread quickly.

"Fires spread when the fuels are dry, when the humidity is low and when it's windy," Goad said.

Low temperatures also make fighting fires difficult and dangerous, because of the possibilities of frozen equipment and frostbitten firefighters.

Although the danger of lightning-sparked fires is lower than in the summer, most wildfires are human-caused, Goad said. No fire should be left unattended until it is cool to the touch, Goad said.

Officials are investigating the cause of the Gully fire.

There is no sizeable snowfall on the horizon, said National Weather Service forecaster Jim Richardson.

The 0.065 inches of precipitation in December is about one-third of an inch below normal, he said, on top of an abnormally dry late-summer and fall.

Although weather systems passing through over the next few days could drop an inch or two of snow, mostly in northern and north-central Minnesota, none packs 3 inches, he said.

Weekend temperatures in the 30s statewide and higher in the metro likely will mean a brown and dry New Year.

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

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