Fire danger remains high in 30 of state’s 87 counties

With much of Minnesota covered in snow just a few weeks ago, it might seem surprising that statewide burning restrictions are in place.

But as of Friday, 30 of the state’s 87 counties were under such restrictions because of abnormally dry conditions. For information and updates on those restrictions, visit the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website.

If you spot a wildfire, “call early, call often and don’t try to put something out yourself,” said Christi Powers, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center in Grand Rapids.

Firefighting crews and equipment are on standby throughout the state, with some on full alert, Powers said. The state has positioned its fleet of more than a dozen firefighting planes in areas where they can move quickly in case of fire, she said.


There’s still time to apply for help with heating bills

Minnesotans who have difficulty paying their heating bills are encouraged to apply for energy assistance. Applications will be accepted through May 31 for the program, which helps low-income homeowners and renters. Households with children younger than 6, people with disabilities, veterans and seniors are especially encouraged to apply.

Last year, the Energy Assistance Program helped more than 126,000 Minnesota households. The typical recipient of low-income heating aid received a payment of $520, state officials said.

Minnesota renters and homeowners earning at or below 50 percent of the state’s median income ($48,077 for a family of four) are eligible to apply for grant money through the program.

“The heating season is coming to an end, but there are still many Minnesotans who need help to pay current and past-due heating bills,” said Commerce Commissioner Jessica Looman. “We urge all Minnesotans who may qualify to apply for energy assistance.”

Program funds come via the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Minnesota has received about $117 million from LIHEAP for the 2017-2018 heating season.

To apply, contact the local service provider in your county. To find a provider, visit the Minnesota Energy Assistance Program on the Commerce Department website (mn.gov/commerce) or call 800-657-3710.



Ex-Obama staffer will give commencement address

Denis McDonough, former President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, will give the commencement speech next weekend at St. John’s University.

The Stillwater native graduated in 1992 from the central Minnesota school, where he played defensive back on the football team. He served as a foreign policy aide before being named the first Minnesotan and Obama’s fifth chief of staff to serve in the high-profile role.

In addition to the address, which takes place at 2 p.m. next Sunday at St. John’s Abbey, McDonough will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree.