Karlstad, Minn., getting back to normal after fires, snow; hot spots still remain
People in the Karlstad, Minn., area are starting to get back to their normal routines after a week of fire and snow.
The devastating fire there last week was followed by a winter storm that left as much as a foot of snow on the ground in some areas and knocked out power for several days.
Tri-County Public School in Karlstad resumed classes Monday for the first time since students and staff were forced to evacuate last Tuesday as a wind-driven wildfire ravaged the southwest portion of the community.
The fire destroyed 11 houses and about two dozen garages and other outbuildings in and around Karlstad.
About 150 volunteer firefighters from 16 community fire departments around the region responded to the fire.
"We went from fire to a winter storm with no power for two-and-a-half days for our area," Karlstad Fire Chief Jeremy Folland said Monday. "We were dealing with fire, car accidents, and trees falling on power lines. And we had trouble getting to some areas."
They worked along with nearly 130 professional firefighters from Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service and other state and federal agencies.
The DNR-attached crews still were working Monday on hot spots mostly in peat bogs in two areas, the County 27 fire at Karlstad and another fire last week near Viking, Minn., according to Lynn Mizner, public information officer with Minnesota Incident Command System.
Local fire officials also are catching their breath this week, even as they try complete reports and to make sure all equipment is ready for service again.
"We're also starting to look at some prevention plans for the area," he said.
According to reports, local firefighters were prevented from back-burning, or starting small fires designed to burn back toward the main fire front. Some contend that may have been a contributing factor in the heavy losses in Karlstad.
"There's some working relations that we're going to be discussing," Folland said. "We're hoping to come to a mutual agreement in the near future."
The County 27 fire covered some 4,400 acres while the Viking fire spread over some 1,400 acres. Both fires were about 90 percent contained on Monday.
A separate fire, known as the North Minnie fire near Fourtown, Minn., remained only about 30 percent contained on Monday. That fire reportedly covered about 24,840 acres, mostly in the Red Lake Wildlife Area of Bemidji State Forest.
Management of the North Minnie fire has been transferred to the state's East Area Incident Management Team.
Outpouring of generosity
In Karlstad, meanwhile, city and Kittson County officials still are trying to find temporary housing, perhaps to last through the winter, for as many as five displaced local families.
Northwest Community Action, Badger, Minn., has established a temporary office at Karlstad City Hall to assist fire victims.
Financial donations are being collected through the Karlstad Fire Department, in care of Box 299, Karlstad, Minn., 56732.
While money is being accepted, other donations no longer are needed.
"One of the big things going on this weekend was just the tremendous pride that was felt in how much people pulled together," Mayor Nick Amb said Monday. "We got so much stuff it's becoming a logistical problem of just what to do with it all."
Community leaders will meet this week to decide how to store and catalog the donations for later use, adding that some fire victims may not have been able to assess their needs yet.
"There just aren't adequate words to thank people for the outpouring of generosity," said the mayor, whose full-time job is a social studies teacher at Tri-County. "And it was not just in Karlstad, but from people throughout northwest Minnesota and beyond."