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Minnesota Department of Natural Resources firefighters guard a fire line to make sure the blaze would not cross state Highway 371 south of Cass Lake on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. BEMIDJI PIONEER/Monte Draper

Wildfire near Cass Lake estimated at 60 acres

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By Crystal Dey / Bemidji Pioneer

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CASS LAKE, Minn. -- Aerial water tankers and helicopters aided ground crews in dousing a 60-acre wildfire south of Cass Lake on Wednesday afternoon.

The fire was reported about 1:30 p.m., witnesses said.

The fire was originally reported as two fires that may have merged across the street from Cass Lake Bena High School. Witnesses said schools were evacuated.

Helicopters and tankers retrieved water from a nearby pond to aid the fight on the ground.

Michael Northbird of Cass Lake said he saw a huge black plume at about 2 p.m. "It took the sunlight out, it was so thick," Northbird said.

There were two spot fires reported about 200 yards from structures at 3:45 p.m.

"Judging by smoke and air traffic, it looks like we have a pretty good handle on it," Greg Nelson, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources regional director, said at 4:45 p.m.

Downed brush from 2012 storms provided fuel for the fire.

"There's an awful lot of mixed pine and blowdown from the July 5 storm two years ago," Nelson said. "It will eventually break down, but could take up to 10 years."

Nelson estimated 60 firefighters from Cass Lake Fire and Rescue, LaPorte Fire Department, Bemidji Fire Department and Blackduck Fire Department aided the DNR, Leech Lake police, the Cass County Sheriff’s Department, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Chippewa National Forest in providing mutual aid.

Although it appears green-up is upon northern Minnesota, the DNR sent aid to a fire west of Big Falls on Wednesday. The 60-acre brush fire in Cass Lake comes after a 22-acre fire started by a downed powerline in the Chippewa National Forest on Sunday.

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