Wildfire consumes 1,600 acres near Nimrod
A platoon of firefighters, heavy equipment and helicopters mounted a ground and air attack on a fast-moving grass fire south of Nimrod Sunday afternoon.
By Monday morning, the blaze had been 80 percent contained, according to a spokesman for the DNR's Division of Forestry. More than 1,600 acres had burned by Monday evening.
The fire is under investigation, said Public Information Officer Ron Sanow. A Jeep was located at the point of ignition in Section 13, three miles south of Nimrod.
"It probably wasn't spontaneous combustion," he said.
Two structures burned, Sanow said. The double garage of a home on Wadena County 26 burned, causing some upper level damage to the house. A trailer believed to have been used as a hunting shack was consumed by flames.
An alert spotter in the Nimrod fire tower reported smoke just after 4 p.m. Sunday. By Sunday evening, the Sebeka Fire Department had been joined by firefighters from Menahga Staples, Verndale and Wadena. A "Type 2" Minnesota Incident Command System management team, headed by Mike Aultman, was soon in place, with a support staff of 26.
A Type 2 team is a nationally carded (certified) group of experts that deals with complex incidents, Sanow explained.
Wadena deputies also aided the suppression, but were kept busy by "rubberneckers," Sanow said.
Stiff winds drove the fire several miles southward as the day progressed.
By Monday morning, deputies were keeping vigil over the area, watching a parade of traffic and sightseers along Wadena County 26.
The fire actually began on the west side of the highway and jumped the roadway.
A fleet of bulldozers was used to push firebreaks onto highland areas. All-terrain vehicles were used to attack the lowland areas, which are mainly peat bogs.
The helicopters were used to save the homes in the area.
Some residents were evacuated as a precaution Sunday evening but allowed home by Monday.
Thirteen wildland fire engines, nine bulldozers, five all-terrain track vehicles, three helicopters equipped with water buckets and three water scooping aircraft were employed. Sixty personnel had reported by Sunday evening.
High winds Monday made weary firefighters nervous, and they actually welcomed snow flurries and cooler temperatures. By then a large perimeter had been established and maintained around much of the burned area.
Burn restrictions have been in place since late March. The Nimrod DNR fire headquarters was a scene of constant meetings and arrivals of new equipment and fresh troops Sunday and Monday.
"We don't send anyone into the fire without a safety briefing," Sanow said.
Monday afternoon, the Minnesota National Guard had sent two Black Hawk helicopters and 12 soldiers from St. Paul and St. Cloud to assist the fire efforts, mainly in the lowland bog areas.
Sanow said the troops had recently completed a fire training refresher course at Camp Ripley the previous week. The Black Hawks are capable of dumping 660 gallons on a fire in one sweep.
The fields south of Nimrod resembled a moonscape, full of craters and smoke. Warm dry conditions have persisted throughout the region much of the winter and last fall, leaving forests and fields tinder dry.
The fire danger remains extremely high, making firefighters believe they could be in for a long spring. By Wednesday morning the 90 personnel had extinguished most of the peat moss and mopped up all remaining smokes within 150 feet o the fire perimeter, Sanow indicated.
Throughout the week, there were no injuries to the public or firefighters.
"Strong gusty winds, warm temperatures, low relative humidity, difficult access to portions of the fire, and heavy fuel loading hampered initial attack and early suppression efforts," he said. "Cooler temperatures and calmer winds on Tuesday helped firefighters achieve full containment. Weather predications beginning on Wednesday April 11th call for warming temperatures and dropping wind speeds. This will decrease the potential for spotting, though the probably of ignition, especially in grasses, will remain high."