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Karlstad fire contained; community meeting to be held tonight

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Seven homes, including three mobile homes, were destroyed Tuesday in Karlstad, Minn., after high winds fanned a wildfire that had been burning since Sunday.

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"Conditions are pretty stable. We hope they stay that way," Minnesota Fire Marshal Bruce Roed said this morning. "We got a handle on it just before nightfall."

A community meeting will be at 6 p.m. today at Tri-County school in Karlstad.

At least half of the Kittson County community of 800, including the Kittson Memorial Nursing Home and Assisted Living Center and Tri-County Public School, was evacuated Tuesday afternoon, he said, but residents were allowed to return home before dark.

School has been canceled today in Karlstad.

No injuries have been reported.

Fire crews monitored the fire all night long, Roed said, extinguishing hot spots, as winds that had gusted to well over 40 mph Tuesday afternoon had subsided by evening.

Officials were beginning to assess damage at daybreak today.

An estimated 150 firefighters, Minnesota National Guard, Minnesota Incident Command System, including Department of Natural Resources, as well as other agencies were on the scene. At least 16 fire departments, including crews from Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, assisted at the fire, according to Roed.

"The head of the fire was aimed right for town," Roed said. "They basically split it. It went east a ways and then went north."

The fire jumped U.S. Highway 59, crossed Kittson County Highway 9 and crossed Minnesota Highway 11, which runs east and west through Karlstad, just west of town.

The homes that were lost were located in the southwest edge or just outside the city limits of Karlstad, which is located about 80 miles north of Grand Forks.

Early estimates indicate the fire also consumed about 10 other outbuildings.

The fire, referred to as the County 27 Fire, is one of eight weekend fires that started burning this weekend in Minnesota's Wannaska complex. Other fires are near Fourtown, Goodridge, Greenbush, Lancaster, Middle River and Thief River Falls.

One fire destroyed four homes near Viking, Minn., and threatened but did not reach the community located about 15 miles northwest of Thief River Falls.

The County 27 fire had burned some 500 acres about 5 miles southwest of Karlstad before Tuesday's high winds spread the fire toward Karlstad.

The fire is estimated to have grown to about 4,720 acres Tuesday, according to Roed. That's nearly half of the estimated 9,800 acres consumed in the eight fires throughout the Wannaska complex.

Roed said fire crews will continue working all day, hoping that the rain or snow that is forecast for the general area by Thursday reaches Kittson County.

"We'll be riding herd on hot spots," he said. "Hopefully the wind doesn't change. It's died down, but it's remained fairly constant."

"They say we'll maybe get 6 inches of snow," he added. "If that's the case, we might be done tonight. If not, it may be weeks."

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